On Friday, 7 March, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties received a written testimony from the world’s (present-day) most famous whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.
Mr Snowden’s testimony was sent ahead of a parliamentary debate that took place on Tuesday (11/3) in Strasbourg, where the results of the 6-months Parliamentary investigation into the US mass surveillance schemes were discussed.
Although Mr Snowden’s testimony did not reveal new information about the espionage programmes, he acknowledged that “there are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens’ rights”.
Further to that, Mr Snowden writes that he recognizes the fact “surveillance against specific targets, for unquestionable reasons of national security while respecting human rights, is above reproach”, nevertheless he provides several examples to illustrate that the use of mass surveillance can be ineffective and have no legal basis.
In one of these examples Mr Snowden writes about the 2009 the “Underwear Bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
He states that “despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications”, Abdulmutallab, was allowed to board an airplane traveling from the EU to the US in 2009.
Moreover, Abdulmutallab’s own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, but even that didn’t raise alarm within the American authorities. “All we gave him was a US visa”, Mr Snowden concludes.
From his answers to specific questions by the rapporteurs on this file, it occurs that the NSA Foreign Affairs Directorate pressured EU countries to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. This was illustrated by the so called “access operations”, which represent the efforts of intelligence agencies to gain access to the bulk communications of major telecommunications providers, for example, Belgacom.
Mr Snowden also refers to the control and supervision within and outside the US intelligence community. He writes about the absence of adequate procedures in the NSA for staffing to signal wrongdoing, about the lack of public oversight on intelligence agencies, and about the fact there are no available protection procedures for whistle-blowers.
These points are surely relevant to the US; however they may well apply to European countries…
Formally reacting to Mr Snowden’s testimony, and wrapping up the EP investigation, the Parliament approved, on 12/3 a resolution to express our stand on this affair.
The text, adopted by a large majority of 544 votes to 78, with 60 abstentions, contains recommendations on a number of areas.
We ask the Commission and Member States to boost EU citizens’ privacy by developing a European infrastructure which covers: clouds and IT solutions, cybersecurity and encryption technologies.
We also call for a “European whistle-blower protection programme”, which should pay particular attention to the “complexity of whistle-blowing in the field of intelligence”.
Moreover, the resolution requests the immediate suspension of the Safe Harbour privacy principles and the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal, until allegations that US authorities have access to EU citizens’ bank data outside the agreement are clarified.
Finally the text clearly states that the Parliament would withhold consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal unless the US fully respects EU fundamental rights.
Even though the resolution is non-binding, it sets a precedent by emphasizing that “the fight against terrorism can never justify secret and illegal mass surveillance”.
Greetings from the European Parliament,
Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
Link to Edward Snowden’s testimony available here:
Link to the adopted resolution by the European Parliament: