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European Policy, Government Surveillance

International Data Protection Day: Reding hits the right notes on EU data protection and surveillance

Yesterday, on Data Protection Day, European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding took the opportunity to deliver a keynote speech in Brussels setting out a set of priorities to govern European data protection policy going forward. I was pleased to represent CDT on the panel following her remarks, alongside Claude Moraes, the Member of Parliament responsible for the Civil Liberties Committee’s electronic surveillance inquiry, and Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor.

In her speech, Vice President Reding echoed several arguments CDT and other groups have made in our drive for surveillance and privacy reform. She pointed to the need to target and limit data collection for surveillance to what is strictly necessary and proportionate to the purpose. Quoting US Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, she stressed that current laws on surveillance data collection have not been updated to take into account today’s technological reality: ubiquitous Internet connectivity, plummeting data storage costs, and the powerful big data analytical capabilities that are now available to the intelligence community. Further, she called for national security exceptions in national legislation to be construed and interpreted narrowly, and for judicial oversight of intelligence programs to be beefed up substantially.

These are all points that CDT has called for in our push for comprehensive reform of intelligence laws and practices, both in the US and internationally.

In my remarks, I reiterated our call on Europe and the US to initiate a trans-Atlantic process to develop a comprehensive understanding of the criteria that should apply to government surveillance and especially to national security surveillance. As the European Parliament inquiry has amply demonstrated, the US and EU Member States need to bring greater transparency, proportionality and oversight to their electronic surveillance practices in order to ensure that human rights principles are respected in both jurisdictions. They also must jointly develop an agreement on what constitutes adequacy for government access to data.

CDT is determined to keep advocating for reform that brings intelligence practices in line with international human rights norms and rebuilds trust in the global, open Internet. There is a great deal of consensus on the principles for reform between civil society and industry, academics and experts. The challenge for both companies and civil society is to turn principles into concrete, detailed legislative reform proposals, and to find ways to implement them. That’s a hard challenge, but if stakeholders across countries drive the issue jointly, we have a fighting chance.