Friday, 10 January 2014

European Parliament wants to question Snowden

The European Parliament's LIBE Committee's Inquiry into the Electronic Mass Surveillance of European Citizens is not due to be published in March, and the Committee has voted to question the whistle-blower Edward Snowden via video-link. However The Guardian has ran a story on the draft of the report in which the Inquiry says the actions of the NSA and the UK's GCHQ "appear illegal".

The draft report states (PDF; main findings start at p.16):

"[The Inquiry] 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 Inquiry] Stresses that, despite the fact that oversight of intelligence services’ activities should be based on both democratic legitimacy (strong legal framework, ex ante authorisation and ex post verification) and an adequate technical capability and expertise, the majority of current EU and US oversight bodies dramatically lack both, in particular the technical capabilities."

(Points 9,and 60 of the main findings).

Along with calling for the US and EU Member States to prohibit blanket mass surveillance activities and demanding that the UK, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany revise their national intelligence laws in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, the rapporteur, S&D MEP Claude Moraes (UK),  called for the SWIFT Agreement with the US to be put on ice.

The SWIFT Agreement allows for the transfer of financial transaction data to the US, and has come in for a lot of criticism. The first attempt at agreement failed, but the European Parliament voted through a second renegotiated SWIFT deal earlier during this parliament.

Tagesschau reports that the inquiry may show that French and German intelligence agencies have also been carrying out similar surveillance programmes. This is probably widely suspected anyway, but for a parliamentary inquiry to finger France and Germany after the outrage expressed by those two countries would be very embarrassing. It would be particularly uncomfortable for Merkel, who is seen to have reacted to the NSA Affair slowly, and due to the controversial nature of the EU's own data retention laws in the country.

The European Parliament report won't have any binding effect, but the Inquiry is a strong political statement. As well as being a fundamental issue that needs investigation, this is a ticket to the central political stage. Questioning Snowden would be a major coup and turn the Inquiry into an international event. Though the Inquiry overwhelmingly wants to question Snowden (only 2 UK Conservatives on the Committee voted against the proposal), it is depending on Snowden wanting to use the platform - something that the US Congress fears and has warned against. It's hard to see why Snowden wouldn't take this opportunity to state his case personally and publicly.

EDIT: Ralf Grahn drew my attention to the draft report online, so I've changed the blog to include links and some extracts to it.

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