EU Parliament: No EU-US trade agreement without safe data

European Parliament. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) joint meeting. (EP Audiovisual Services, 20/2/2014).

European Parliament. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) joint meeting. (EP Audiovisual Services, 20/2/2014).

The European Parliament, in a strongly worded and overwhelmingly voted resolution, set a definite condition for the legislature’s approval of the currently under negotiation EU-US free trade agreement (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP). The condition is that American NSA’s mass surveillance practices be completely stopped. The relevant Press release clearly states that “Parliament’s consent to the EU-US trade deal “could be endangered” if blanket mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) does not stop”.

The resolution, in which MEPs set out their findings and recommendations to boost EU citizens’ privacy, was backed by 544 votes to 78, with 60 abstentions. “The Snowden revelations gave us a chance to react. I hope we will turn those reactions into something positive and lasting into the next mandate of this Parliament, a data protection bill of rights that we can all be proud of”, said Civil Liberties inquiry rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK). “This is the only international inquiry into mass surveillance. (…) Even Congress in the United States has not had an inquiry”, he added.

No trade agreement if…

At this point, it must be noted that last Tuesday, the Chairwoman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein, accused the country’s Central Intelligence Agency, the infamous CIA, of spying on Congressional computers, violating in this way the Constitution and the laws. In such a climate, the European Parliament’s intervention acquires a new momentum directly threatening the already controversial and heavily criticized TTIP.
The Parliament resolution bluntly states that the legislative, “should withhold its consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the US unless it fully respects EU fundamental rights.” This consent “could be endangered as long as blanket mass surveillance activities and the interception of communications in EU institutions and diplomatic representations are not fully stopped”, notes the text.

Spying for business secrets

MEPs also call for the “immediate suspension” of the Safe Harbour privacy principles (voluntary data protection standards for non-EU companies transferring EU citizens’ personal data to the US). These principles “do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens” say MEPs, urging the US to propose new personal data transfer rules that meet EU data protection requirements. The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal should also be suspended “until allegations that US authorities have access to EU citizens’ bank data outside the agreement are clarified”, the MEPs said.

Those two deals constitute the current institutional base agreed between the two sides, for the treatment of EU citizens’ data by American private businesses and government agencies. Press reports have claimed that under the pretext of terrorist threats more than one US government agencies are spying on European Union businesses, with the only target to steal crucial technical and marketing information. The information is then passed under dark procedures to the interested US companies.

In view of this reality, the EU Parliament estimates that whistleblowers should be protected and the information they convey be fully exploited. Actually, the MEPs propose the institutionalization of a “European whistle-blower protection programme”, which should pay particular attention to the “complexity of whistle-blowing in the field of intelligence”. EU countries are also asked to consider granting whistleblowers international protection from persecution.

EU countries also do it

Of course the legislators didn’t turn a blind eye to allegations regarding mass surveillance activities of some EU member states. To this effect, they asked the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland to clarify those allegations; the resolution stresses that “including potential agreements between intelligence services and telecoms firms on access to and exchange of personal data and access to transatlantic cables – and their compatibility with EU laws”.

The Parliamentarian also asked the above mentioned and some more EU countries “to review their national laws and to ensure that their intelligence services are subject to parliamentary and judicial oversight and that they comply with fundamental rights obligations”. All EU countries in question are the UK, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The Civil Liberties Committee inquiry into mass surveillance of EU citizens began in September 2013. A total of 16 hearings have been held since then.

 

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