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Europe MPs: Time to change our data-sharing policy with US firms

Draft doc also condemns NSA and GCHQ dragnet surveillance

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A European Parliament report has condemned dragnet surveillance programmes by the NSA and the UK's GCHQ, suggesting the schemes are motivated by political and economic espionage as well as the stated counter-terrorism objective.

A draft report of the EU Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, which has held a series of high profile hearings on surveillance over recent weeks, expressed concerns over the "legality, necessity and proportionality" of spy agencies' systems that have been used to "store and analyse communication and location data and metadata of all citizens around the world on an unprecedented scale and in an indiscriminate and non-suspicion-based manner".

The document, put together by Claude Moraes MEP, calls on the US authorities and the EU Member States to "prohibit blanket mass surveillance activities and bulk processing of personal data".

The most significant element of the report is arguably a call for the EU Commission to consider suspending Safe Harbour data-sharing arrangements with US companies. The draft report states:

Under the current circumstances the Safe Harbour principles do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens, these transfers should be carried out under other instruments, such as contractual clauses or BCRs setting out specific safeguards and protections .

The report also noted that the companies identified by the Snowden revelations as being involved in the large scale mass surveillance of EU data subjects by NSA are:

companies that have self-certified their adherence to Safe Harbour, and that Safe Harbour is the legal instrument used for the transfer of EU personal data to the US (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook, Apple, LinkedIn); and expresses its concerns on the fact that these organisations admitted that they do not encrypt information and communications flowing between their data centres, thereby enabling intelligence services to intercept information,

Moraes also repeated previous recommendations for the swift development of an EU data storage “cloud” to protect EU citizens' data.

The report roundly criticised GCHQ and the NSA's tapping of transatlantic cables, the logging of internet communication through PRISM as well as attempts by the NSA to nobble or weaken the security of online systems through inserting backdoors or other similar tactics.

It is very doubtful that data collection of such magnitude is only guided by the fight against terrorism, as it involves the collection of all possible data of all citizens; points therefore to the possible existence of other power motives such as political and economic espionage.

The main findings of the report also called out France (DGSE), Germany (BND) and Sweden (FRA) for running similar (although smaller scale) mass surveillance programmes against European citizens.

The committee reviewed most of the main revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden since June 2013 before concluding the dragnet programme was a danger for democratic institutions and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights as well as something that undermined trust between EU countries and the US as well as among EU countries.

[The Committee] condemns in the strongest possible terms the vast, systemic, blanket collection of the personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information; emphasises that the systems of mass, indiscriminate surveillance by intelligence services constitute a serious interference with the fundamental rights of citizens; stresses that privacy is not a luxury right, but that it is the foundation stone of a free and democratic society; points out, furthermore, that mass surveillance has potentially severe effects on the freedom of the press, thought and speech, as well as a significant potential for abuse of the information gathered against political adversaries; emphasises that these mass surveillance activities appear also to entail illegal actions by intelligence services and raise questions regarding the extra-territoriality of national laws.

The report rejects the notion that surveillance is a matter of national security and therefore the sole competence of member states. It calls on the UK in particular but also on Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands to revise their national legislation and introduce tougher oversight regimes against national intelligence agencies.

The 52-page draft report, still to be approved, carries no legal weight but does add to the growing chorus of criticism against the NSA and GCHQ's dragnet surveillance programmes. The 40 MEPs of the committee don't have much power in general and the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, is far more influential in pulling the levers of power in Brussels.

The same European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs voted on Thursday to invite Edward Snowden to testify before them via video as part of a special hearing. The vote is subject to ratification by a full parliamentary vote next month, Euronews adds. ®

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