Fight against terrorism can never justify secret mass surveillance

The fight against terrorism can never justify secret and illegal mass surveillance, the European Parliament has said, demanding that a range of agreements with the US be scrapped or put on hold.

It also gave the go-ahead for reinforced EU data protection laws that insist all companies targeting European users observe the law; include IP addresses as personal data; and allow for collective legal actions if personal data of a group of people is breached, lost or stolen.

The MEPs overwhelmingly supported what is the only international inquiry into mass surveillance, following the Snowden revelations, and hope to produce a data protection bill of rights. However, many of them fear that the nine EU member states that co-operate with the US in mass surveillance (including presidents and prime ministers) may not follow through.

The MEPs demanded that the EU suspend its bank data agreement with the US and its “Safe Harbour agreement” on data privacy by 544 votes to 78 with 60 abstentions. The text also said the Parliament should withhold its consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — a wide-ranging free trade deal between the EU and the US currently being negotiated — unless it fully respects EU fundamental rights and does not compromise data protection.

Safe Harbour is a voluntary agreement dealing with data protection standards for non-EU companies transferring EU citizens’ data to the US. They want the US to propose new rules that meet better protection standards.

They also want to suspend the terrorist finance tracking programme until claims that the US authorities have been accessing EU citizens’ bank data outside the terms of the agreement are clarified.

The report also calls for a European Whistle-blower protection programme that would be able to cope with what they describe as the complexity of whistleblowing in the area of intelligence, and they also say countries should consider giving whistle blowers protection from prosecution.

The MEPs have called on Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland to clarify allegations against them of mass surveillance including (through agreements with other intelligence agencies, telecoms firms and those included in the 14-eyes arrangement with the US including Belgium, Italy and Spain) to bring their intelligence services under parliamentary and judicial oversight.

The EU regulation on personal data, also passed by MEPs, now passes to member states for their approval. European Consumers Organisation head Monique Goyens said: “This regulation can be the beginning of a tilt in balance of control back towards users. That is urgent and overdue”.

Billions of euro are made by companies using people’s personal data, usually without those concerned knowing and having negligible control over how it is used.


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