EU parliamentary committee’s preliminary report on NSA surveillance

A European Union parliamentary committee has published its preliminary conclusions as part of its inquiry into surveillance of EU citizens by the NSA as well as surveillance bodies in EU member states. The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs is examining the impact of this surveillance on “EU citizens’ fundamental rights and on transatlantic cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs.”  The report has 18 main findings and close to 100 recommendations; so while this post is by no means an exhaustive summary, I offer here some highlights of the Committee’s early conclusions.

While the Committee “wholeheartedly supports the fight against terrorism,” it “strongly believes that [terrorism] can never in itself be a justification for untargeted, secret and sometimes even illegal mass surveillance programmes” [5]. The Committee is unsparing in its criticisms of mass surveillance operations, summarized in the following terms:

9. Condemns in the strongest possible terms the vast, systemic, blanket collection of the personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information; emphasises that the systems of mass, indiscriminate surveillance by intelligence services constitute a serious interference with the fundamental rights of citizens; stresses that privacy is not a luxury right, but that it is the foundation stone of a free and democratic society; points out, furthermore, that mass surveillance has potentially severe effects on the freedom of the press, thought and speech, as well as a significant potential for abuse of the information gathered against political adversaries; emphasises that these mass surveillance activities appear also to entail illegal actions by intelligence services…

A few of the most relevant of the report’s “main findings” are available after the jump.

6. Considers it very doubtful that data collection of such magnitude is only guided by the fight against terrorism, as it involves the collection of all possible data of all citizens; points therefore to the possible existence of other power motives such as political and economic espionage;

11. Is adamant that secret laws, treaties and courts violate the rule of law; points out that any judgment of a court or tribunal and any decision of an administrative authority of a non-EU state authorising, directly or indirectly, surveillance activities such as those examined by this inquiry may not be automatically recognised or enforced, but must be submitted individually to the appropriate national procedures on mutual recognition and legal assistance, including rules imposed by bilateral agreements;

The draft recommendations are wide-ranging and detailed, and cover, among other issues, international transfer of data under the US Safe Harbour agreement, democratic oversight of intelligence services, and the IT security of EU institutions. Many of the Committee’s recommendations implicate the US. Recommendation 25, for instance, speaks solely to the US:

25. Calls on the US to revise its legislation without delay in order to bring it into line with international law, to recognise the privacy and other rights of EU citizens, to provide for judicial redress for EU citizens and to sign the Additional Protocol allowing for complaints by individuals under the ICCPR;

Other key recommendations include:

  • The “immediate suspension” of the Safe Harbour agreement with the US, “until a full review has been conducted and current loopholes are remedied, making sure that transfers of personal data … can only take place in compliance with highest EU standards” ([28]-[33]; Action 3);
  • An “immediate resumption of the negotiations with the US on the ‘Umbrella Agreement’, which should provide for clear rights for EU citizens and effective and enforceable administrative and judicial remedies in the US without any discrimination” ([48]; Action 2);
  • The European Parliament should only consent to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the US provided the agreement fully respects EU fundamental rights, even while recognizing the TTIP’s “major strategic importance for creating further economic growth” ([58]-[59]);
  • The Suspension of the TFTP agreement until all concerns have been properly addressed, as the information provided by the European Commission and the US Treasury does not clarify whether US intelligence agencies have access to SWIFT financial messages in the EU ([44]-[46]; Action 4);
  • The development of an EU data storage cloud, noting that US cloud computing “has been negatively affected” by surveillance activities ([53]);
  • An assessment of the list of US companies under IT contracts with the European Parliament, “taking into account revelations about NSA contracts with a company such as RSA, whose products the European Parliament is using to supposedly protect remote access to their data by its Members and staff” ([88]); and
  • Measures for rebuilding trust between the EU and the US, noting “the inquiry has shown the need for the US to restore trust with its partners, as US intelligence agencies’ activities are primarily at stake” ([96]-[106]).

Members of the European Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the draft resolution and table amendments, with a final vote expected late February. JSB will continue to provide coverage of the developments at the EU, which–depending on the final text–may present significant political and economic consequences in the US. 

About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).