EU Citizens Still In Danger From Mass Surveillance, Say MEPs

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EU Parliament calls for protection of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and clampdown on data transfers to the US

The EU Parliament has stepped into the controversy surrounding NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the protection of personal data belonging to EU citizens.

MEPs voted on Thursday to urge the EU Commission to ensure that all data transfers to the US are subject to an “effective level of protection”.

Snowden Protection

The MEPs said that too little has been done to safeguard citizens’ fundamental rights following revelations of electronic mass surveillance by Edward Snowden back in 2013.

And they feel that EU citizens’ rights are still in danger.

“This resolution, approved by 342 votes to 274, with 29 abstentions, takes stock of the (lack of) action taken by the European Commission, other EU institutions and member states on the recommendations set out by Parliament in its resolution of 12 March 2014 on the electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens, drawn up in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations,” said the EU Parliament.

Edward Snowden privacy protest NSA US Washington © Rena Schild ShutterstockAnd controversially, the MEPs have also called for EU member states to grant protection to Edward Snowden, as a “human rights defender”.

This resolution was very narrowly approved by MEPs (285 votes to 281) after they called on EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender”.

They didn’t stop there, and urged a clampdown on the transfer of EU citizen data to the United States under the so called ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement – a long standing deal that was recently torpedoed by Europe’s top court.

“MEPs welcome the 6 October ruling by the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Schrems case, which invalidated the Commission’s decision on the Safe Harbour scheme for data transfers to the US,” said the MEPs. “This ruling has confirmed the long-standing position of Parliament regarding the lack of an adequate level of protection under this instrument.”

And the EU called on the European Commission to “immediately take the necessary measures to ensure that all personal data transferred to the US are subject to an effective level of protection that is essentially equivalent to that guaranteed in the EU”.

Safe Harbour

And the EU Parliament urged the Commission to “reflect immediately on alternatives to Safe Harbour and on the ‘impact of the judgement on any other instruments for the transfer of personal data to the US, and to report on the matter by the end of 2015’”.

It also said the Commission should suspend the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) agreement with the US.

It said that the Commission’s response so far to Parliament’s 2014 resolution “highly inadequate” given the extent of the revelations of mass surveillance.

“EU citizens’ fundamental rights remain in danger” and “too little has been done to ensure their full protection,” the EU Parliament said.

And the MEPs also expressed concern about the surveillance laws in several EU countries, including France, the UK and the Netherlands.

It is also worried by revelations of mass surveillance of telecommunications and internet traffic inside the EU by the German foreign intelligence agency BND in co-operation with the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Revised Deal

Earlier this week the British data protection watchdog sought to reassure British firms after the data sharing ruling by the CJEU.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) reassurance came after it was revealed that firms that continue to transfer EU individuals’ personal data to the US under ‘Safe Harbor’ rules potentially face legal action beginning at the end of January 2016.

The EU and the US have been in negotiations for the past two years over a new agreement to replace Safe Harbour that would better protect data transferred to the US. In May it was revealed those negotiations were very close to completion.

US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker reportedly told journalists in Frankfurt this week that “a solution is within hand” for a revised transatlantic data sharing between the US and the EU.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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