A 9-member delegation from the Civil Liberties Committee will go to Washington from 28 to 30 October to gather information on issues related to the Inquiry on the Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU citizens by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Topics to be discussed with the US authorities include the impact of surveillance programmes (PRISM and others) on EU citizens’ fundamental rights, especially privacy, the EU's new data protection reform package, the European Parliament's recent request to suspend the EU-US agreement on the transfer of bank data (Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, 2010) and data protection rules applicable to US firms operating in Europe (Commission "Safe Harbour" decision, 2000).
The delegation will also question US authorities on recent press reports about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone being tapped by US intelligence, the NSA intercepting French phone traffic on a massive scale and the British intelligence services (GCHQ) hacking the servers of the Belgian telecoms company Belgacom using NSA techniques.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will meet Robert S. Litt, General Counsel Office of the Director of National Intelligence, representatives of the Departments of Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce, the State Department, the Federal Trade Commission, as well as members of Congress. They will also meet privacy lawyers, academics and civil society.
No reply has been received yet to a request for MEPs to meet NSA Director, General Keith Alexander.
The following MEPs will take part in the delegation:
Claude Moraes MEP, European Parliament inquiry rapporteur and head of the delegation said:
"A key priority for this inquiry is to gather all relevant information and evidence from US sources, which is why this fact-finding delegation to Washington is so important. We will have the opportunity to discuss directly with US counterparts the alleged surveillance activities of US authorities and any impact they have in terms of EU citizens' fundamental right to privacy.
Since the Edward Snowden revelations in July, both authorities in the US and the EU agree that a public debate on these issues is both welcomed and necessary. It is in our common interest to engage in meaningful dialogue in order to provide explanations to address the concerns raised by all citizens from these press reports.
The European Parliament has an obligation to ensure that there is a full investigation into these allegations and that any necessary mechanisms to safeguard citizens’ rights to data protection and privacy are implemented".
On Monday, 28 October, MEPs will focus on the intelligence activities and on the impact of data protection breaches on trade. They will meet Rand Beers, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to discuss security issues.
The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) agreement on the transfer of bank data to the US will take centre stage in the meetings with the Under Secretary of the Treasury Department, David S. Cohen, and the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Adam J. Szubin. On 23 October the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the suspension of EU-US bank data deal in response to NSA snooping.
The data protection rules applicable to US companies operating in Europe (Safe Harbour decision) will be discussed with Matthew Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia, Department of Commerce.
The challenge of EU surveillance will be addressed at the legal experts panel.
Tuesday, 29 October, will be mostly dedicated to meetings with members of the US Congress. In the morning, MEPs will also take part in a roundtable discussion at the European Institute on "Data Protection, Privacy and Security: Re-establishing trust between Europe and the United States". Members will also meet the General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Robert S. Litt, and the Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, David Medine.
On Wednesday, 30 October, MEPs will discuss the implementation of Safe Harbour principles and data protection in transatlantic commerce with representatives of Internet and Cloud companies. In the morning, they will also meet EU member states' embassies. They will then take part in a working lunch with civil society and think-tank representatives. The US surveillance programmes and their impact on US and EU citizens’ rights, as well as data transfers over the Atlantic, will be on the menu.
Jointly with Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs, the delegation will go to the White House to meet Karen Donfried, Senior director for European affairs, National Security Council.
The delegation is also due to meet representatives of Apple Inc.
Press conference in Washington
The members of the Civil Liberties Committee delegation will give a press conference on Wednesday at 12.00 (Washington time). Venue: Press Room of the EU Delegation, 2175 K Street, NW, ground floor.
Background on the inquiry, data protection and TFTP
The scope of this delegation covers a wide range of topics concerning ongoing negotiations and recent events in the EU-US relations.
Inquiry on electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens
The public debate on electronic mass surveillance programmes, like PRISM, and the inquiry the Civil Liberties Committee is carrying out further to Parliament’s resolution of 4 July will undoubtedly lead to focus the delegation’s activities on this very issue. The delegation aims to discuss and obtain feedback regarding the PRISM programme and its impact on EU citizens’ rights, as well as the interception of EU institutions offices and delegations by the US NSA. The delegation also aims to explore possible legal remedies for EU citizens.
The alleged tapping of the Belgian telecoms firm Belgacom by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), in connection with the NSA snooping scandal, should also be addressed by MEPs. Every week new revelations are made public about tapping of French communications systems and also in other member states, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone tapping.
A major overhaul of current EU data protection rules, to put people in control of their personal data while at the same time making it easier for companies to move across Europe, was backed by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee on 21 October.
According to the adopted text, if a third country requests a company (e.g. a search engine, social network or cloud provider) to disclose personal information processed in the EU, the firm would have to seek authorisation from the national data protection authority in Europe before transferring any data. The company would also have to inform the person of such a request. This proposal is a response to the mass surveillance activities unveiled by the media in June 2013.
MEPs also inserted an explicit consent requirement, a right to erasure and bigger fines for firms that break the rules.
On 23 October the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the suspension of EU-US bank data deal in response to NSA snooping. The resolution, tabled by the S&D, ALDE and Greens/EFA groups, was passed by 280 votes to 254, with 30 abstentions.
Parliament stresses that any data-sharing agreement with the US must be based on a consistent legal data protection framework, offering legally-binding standards on purpose limitation, data minimisation, information, access, correction, erasure and redress.
Although Parliament has no formal powers to initiate the suspension or termination of an international deal, "the Commission will have to act if Parliament withdraws its support for a particular agreement", says the approved text. It adds that Parliament will take account of the Commission's response to this demand when considering whether to give its consent to future international agreements.
On 7 October the Civil Liberties Committee inquiry dedicated a specific hearing to the Safe Harbour adequacy decision: it showed many shortcomings and deficiencies in the implementation of the guiding principles that are supposed to ensure an adequate level of protection for EU citizens’ data when processed by US companies. Direct contact with the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Agency will enable the delegation to ask how these loopholes will be remedied and assess the real level of adequacy.
Contact In Washington:
Press and Communications, European Parliament Liaison Office with US Congress
Tel. +1 202 862 4737
Cell +1 202 431 4932