Europeans must have their privacy safeguarded from US surveillance

Citizens’ rights to data protection and privacy must be protected.

Claude Moraes is Labour MEP for London and is the Socialists and Democrats spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs in the European Parliament

The latest Snowden allegations – that chancellor Angela Merkel had her personal communications tapped by US intelligence – come on top of recent allegations that NSA were intercepting phone traffic of French citizens on a massive scale.

Also that Brazilian diplomats were being tapped and that a Belgian telecoms company, Belgacom, are investigating an alleged hacking into their systems by GCHQ using NSA techniques.

All of these revelations are now very much in the public domain and have been analysed and discussed in great detail. As a British Labour MEP leading the European Parliaments Inquiry into these allegations of electronic mass surveillance, I can draw the following on lessons and conclusions as the Inquiry takes its course.

The first and obvious issue is to understand the sheer scale of the surveillance; it is indeed mass surveillance that we seen in the past few days in France. This is not just about phone tapping of the elite, such as chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dilma Rousseff, but of millions of citizens.

Secondly, there seems to be something of a cultural and political divide in relation to the reactions of the allegations. In Germany, for example, reactions to surveillance of Angela Merkel and other data mining allegations – such as the allegations that the SWIFT anti-terrorism deal between the European Union and the US had potentially being compromised – have been treated with much more anger and seriousness than the UK.

The European Union has brokered numerous deals with the US on anti-terrorism legislation which shows that we do share similar goals in terms of fighting against terrorism. However, despite this common interest our differing historical backgrounds, legal frameworks and culture on data protection and privacy issues need to be respected.

One thing the EU does have in common with the US is that it is in both our common interest to engage in dialogue in order to provide meaningful explanations to our citizens. In order to have this dialogue and allow for an open debate on a so-called balanced approach to security and privacy, we need to encourage the responsible journalism that has been taking place so far by the Guardian, Der Spiegel and others.

It is only with their involvement that we can have a fully informed debate leading to real solutions.

We could get lost in the sheer volume of these allegations and treat them as a huge media storm, or we could try and focus on what we now need to do about it – which is to try and make sense of our relationship with the US and on how the NSA and European Member States’ intelligence agencies are operating. Snowden’s revelations suggest that within EU countries there is widespread internal mass surveillance which ‎seem disproportionate in the important fight against terrorism and for security.

Such allegations need to be investigated.

The key question is to where will all these allegations lead. For my part, the European Parliament’s Inquiry emphasis has to be on ensuring that there is strong legal framework in place in the EU which not only protects EU citizens fundamental right to privacy, but ensures that other third countries including the US respect this right too.

We are obliged to both make sure that these allegations are fully investigated and ensure that changes are made to allow for new mechanisms to safeguard citizens’ rights to data protection and privacy.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.