"We need the US authorities to put an end to current discrimination whereby European citizens have lower levels of privacy rights than US citizens, including less privacy protection in US courts. It would have been good to have a more reassuring message on these issues with more clarity on future reform", said lead MEP in Parliament's inquiry into mass surveillance of EU citizens, Claude Moraes, on Friday, reacting to US President Obama's proposed changes to NSA surveillance practices.
Following six months of controversy over mass surveillance activities in the US, President Obama has given his first considered response to potential reforms to the US legal framework in response to the continuing disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), rapporteur for the European Parliament inquiry into the mass surveillance of EU citizens, said:
"Today's speech from President Obama marks a substantial step forward in addressing the serious concerns from EU Member States in relation to NSA activities on mass surveillance and spying. Whilst he has now recognised that there is a need for additional privacy protection in the US for EU citizens, his comments may not have been enough to restore confidence following the confusion and concern over surveillance and spying allegations in relation to EU citizens, EU Member States, EU leaders and EU Institutions. It is clear the language was substantial but there will be a clear pause before EU citizens and other non-US targets of NSA alleged surveillance can feel that they have been assured of protection in law".
"What we are seeking is firm, concrete assurance from the US that they will make the necessary reforms to guarantee European citizens an end to the blanket collection of personal data of innocent people. We are asking for a clear path to judicial redress rights for EU citizens and a firm commitment to finalising an EU-US umbrella agreement on data transfer for law enforcement purposes. We needed a clear message to reassure EU citizens, who have serious concerns relating to the use of metadata for potentially negative or illegal purposes, that they will have a right to judicial redress, which would deter such potential actions from the NSA".
"The speech talked about the potential commercial consequences of the Edward Snowden disclosures on US companies many of whom are household names. For EU citizens the issue will be whether or not the President has done enough in the speech to restore the damage to the reputation of many major IT companies who suffered from allegations of collusion with NSA".
"In order to rebuild trust, we need the US authorities to put an end to current discrimination whereby European citizens have lower levels of privacy rights than US citizens, including ensuring privacy protection in US courts. It would have been good to have a more reassuring message on these issues with more clarity on future reform".
"The speech was clearly weighted towards the NSA's relationship with a concerned US audience. The sections which apply to non-US targets of mass surveillance and spying allegations received clear acknowledgements of their anxieties and concerns but will have to wait and continue to lobby for a substantive set of reforms to ensure long standing protections which balance privacy and security in relation to the NSA".
Following the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the European Parliament adopted on 4 July 2013 a resolution to launch an in-depth inquiry into the US surveillance programmes. The resolution gives Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee a mandate to assess the impact of the alleged surveillance activities on EU citizens' right to privacy and data protection, freedom of expression, the presumption of innocence and the right to an effective remedy.
MEPs involved in the inquiry are also expected to table recommendations to prevent similar cases in future and step up IT security in European institutions and agencies. The conclusions of the inquiry will be summed up in a report to be voted by the Civil Liberties Committee in February and by the full Parliament in March.
In the context of the inquiry, a Civil Liberties Committee delegation travelled to Washington DC on 28-30 October 2013 to gather information from the US authorities on these allegations and specific cases, such as the British intelligence services (GCHQ) hacking the servers of the Belgian telecoms company Belgacom using NSA techniques.
Claude Moraes is the European Parliament's rapporteur for the inquiry into mass surveillance and author of the draft report on the US NSA surveillance programme, surveillance bodies in various Member States and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights and on transatlantic cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs.