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European Policy, Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

European Parliament Votes on Data Protection and Surveillance Resolution

Today, the European Parliament (EP) held two important votes, one on Data Protection reform and the other on a government surveillance resolution. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has been active in both matters, and our views on both, along with comments from CDT Representative and Director of European Affairs, Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, follow.

First, the European Parliament adopted its report on the proposed Data Protection reform package. The package was intended to update European data protection laws and make them more consistent across the Union. The Parliament has adopted a number of useful amendments that retain robust data protection while undoing some unworkable provisions. CDT provided analysis on the EP text when it was adopted in Committee last year along with suggestions for further refinement.

“The ball is now in Member States’ court on data protection reform. However, there are big rifts between a number of Member States, and they seem to be nowhere near a solution. We urge the Member States to work together to resolve their differences, further improve the legislative text, and pass the Data Protection Regulation to modernize and strengthen the privacy protections for European citizens,” said Jeppesen.

Second, the Parliament adopted a resolution based on the Civil Liberties Committee’s inquiry on electronic surveillance, set up in July 2013, prompted by the Snowden revelations. CDT was the first civil society group to provide testimony to the inquiry in September 2013. The Committee did an admirable job in collecting available information about surveillance, both in Europe and the US. It was a difficult task. The Committee had no powers to compel witnesses to appear, and many government agencies declined invitations to participate.

“The Resolution adopted by the Parliament is non-binding, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant. The Parliament makes several sensible recommendations. Notably, it demands an end to bulk collection of data, echoing demands made by both companies and civil society groups. Further, it calls on a number of Member States to bring their intelligence surveillance laws and practices in line with European and international human rights norms,” Jeppesen added.

The report also requests immediate suspension of the Safe Harbour agreement, which is used by companies to transfer data between the EU and the US. While we appreciate the Parliament’s motivation to deliver a strong political message to the US government, we have argued that suspension of the Safe Harbour would have minimal impact on surveillance practices either in the EU or the US, and it would not contribute materially to the protection of personal data of European citizens from unwarranted data collection by intelligence agencies.

“Rather than focusing on Safe Harbour, we call on Europe and the US to work towards a common understanding of the criteria that should apply to government surveillance. Achieving meaningful international surveillance reform will be a long and hard process, and we will want to work with the European Parliament on this critical task,” Jeppesen concluded.