European Commission Must Listen to Parliament's Call to Act Against Surveillance Programmes

Paris, 12 March 2014 — Today, the European Parliament passed an important resolution condemning the US and EU surveillance programmes. La Quadrature du Net welcomes this non-binding resolution as it calls for the suspension of both the “Safe Harbor” agreement and of the illegal mass surveillance programmes and reaffirms the importance of the protection of citizens' fundamental right to privacy. Ahead of European elections, citizens should now act to ensure that privacy will be a major concern of the next legislative period so that this call is listened to by the European Commission.

The resolution adopted today results from Claude Moraes' (S&D – UK) report, voted in February 2014 by the “Civil Liberties” (LIBE) committee, in response to revelations by Edward Snowden of the massive surveillance programme established by the United States with the willing support of several European Union member states. By adopting this report, the European Parliament reaffirms some self-evident truths, such as that citizens' right were violated and the fact that journalists, lawyers, and doctors are targeted, makes the situation even worse. It also calls for essential, though obvious, actions, such as the end of illegal mass surveillance programmes.

The most important signal sent by this resolution however is when it “calls on the Commission to present measures providing for the immediate suspension of” the Safe Harbor agreement. This is precisely what La Quadrature du Net and other civil society organisations have been demanding since the beginning of Edward Snowden's revelations. The suspension of this agreement, if enacted by the European Commission, would represent a concrete and effective measure, a necessary step to put a stop to the mass surveillance of European citizens. It would also push renegotiation of transatlantic relations on this matter. Unfortunately, resolutions are non-binding, and it is thus now the duty of the European Commission to enact effective measures, to suspend the unlimited transfer of personal data to the US, and thereby strongly encourage the US to adapt their laws to meet existing and upcoming European Union standards on data protection.

However, the rejection of amendments1 calling for the offer of support to Edward Snowden is regrettable, given that without him, the existence of the mass surveillance programmes against which the Parliament protested in this resolution would not have been known to the extent that it is today. Similarly, the timid warning that the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement “could be endangered” by mass surveillance activities is encouraging, but far too weak. This is especially regrettable given that a recently leaked document demonstrated that other civil society concerns were justified2. This timidity is all the more deplorable because positive amendments3 were tabled, which called for an immediate suspension of the negotiations.

“Today's European Parliament vote is a powerful statement, as it calls to the suspension of the 'Safe Harbor'. This resolution affirmed that the massive violation of fundamental rights of European citizens is not acceptable and must end without delay. It is now the duty to the European Commission to listen to this call and to enact it into effective measures. Ahead of European elections, La Quadrature du Net calls on citizens to urge for strong and meaningful acts and ensure that the suspension of the 'Safe harbor' becomes a reality” concluded Benjamin Sonntag, cofounder of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. For example, amendment 29: “21a. Calls on the United States and the Member States to drop criminal charges, if any, against Edward Snowden, and on the Member States to grant him refugee status or international protection status and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as a whistleblower and international human rights defender;”
  • 2. The leaked confidential European Commission's draft proposal on trade in services, investment and e-commerce published by Zeit Online shows that secret negotiations on TAFTA include controversial provisions on so called “intellectual property rights”, the liability of intermediary service providers, and on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
  • 3. For example amendment 32: “73. Calls for an immediate suspension of the TTIP agreement negotiations as long as the blanket mass surveillance activities and bulk processing of personal data, as well as the interception of communications in EU institutions and diplomatic representations, are not fully stopped and an adequate solution for the data privacy rights of EU citizens, including administrative and judicial redress, has not been found; underlines the fact that Parliament will only consent to the final TTIP agreement provided that the agreement fully respects, among other things, the fundamental rights recognised by the EU Charter, and that the protection of the privacy of individuals in relation to the processing and dissemination of personal data remain governed by Article XIV of the GATS; stresses that EU data protection legislation cannot be deemed an ‘arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination’ in the application of Article XIV of the GATS;”