The European Parliament adopted a resolution, Thursday July 4, giving the go-ahead for the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee to conduct an in-depth inquiry into the US surveillance programs.
The new EU inquiry follows the series of revelations concerning the US National Security Agency’s data harvesting operation PRISM made by former NSA consultant Edward Snowden and published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
The remit of the investigation, which was highlighted on the anti-censorship Index on Censorship website, includes the bugging of EU premises and other spying allegations. It’s intended the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee will present its report by end 2013.
The EU resolution forms part of an adopted text, titled “US NSA surveillance programme, surveillance bodies in various Member States and impact on EU citizens' privacy,” passed by the full house on Thursday. As part of the same text, the European Parliament also called for greater protection for whistleblowers generally, expressed serious concerns over operation PRISM and other surveillance programs, strongly condemned alleged US spying on EU missions and demanded that US authorities provide the European Union with full information on these allegations without further delay.
The resolution was passed by an overwhelming 483 votes to 98 with 65 abstentions.
The European Parliament also expressed its grave concerns over allegations that a number of EU states, notably the United Kingdom, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany and Poland were operating surveillance programs similar to PRISM.
As part of the Civil Liberties Committee’s remit, it will examine whether these programs are permissible under EU law. The Committee will gather information and evidence from both US and EU sources and present its conclusions by the end of 2013. The impact of the recent alleged surveillance operations on EU citizens will also be assessed in the context of individuals’ rights to privacy and data protection, freedom of expression, the presumption of innocence and the right to an effective remedy.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) conducting the inquiry are expected to make recommendations to prevent similar future cases and on how IT security at EU institutions, bodies and agencies can be tightened up.
While the European Union’s writ does not run as far as Edward Snowden’s case, unless in the unlikely event an EU country were to grant Snowden political asylum, the European Parliament’s sentiments, expressed as part of the text adopted last Thursday, could have a bearing on future whistleblower cases.
If, for example, a future US whistleblower were to choose an EU country as the venue for blowing the whistle on the activities of US government agencies, then MEPs expressed need for "procedures allowing whistleblowers to unveil serious violations of fundamental rights" could impact on future US/EU diplomatic relations. In the adopted text the European Parliament referred to the importance of providing whistleblowers with the protection they need, including, significantly, “at international level”.
Possible EU retaliation against the US
Just how seriously Edward Snowden’s exposure of NSA activities have affected EU/US relations was illustrated by MEPs calling on the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and EU countries to consider all means at their disposal to ‘persuade’ the US to co-operate in providing information on operation PRISM and other alleged surveillance. They referred to the possibility of suspending agreements covering passenger name records (PNR) and the terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP), related to money laundering for terrorist aims.
The resolution may also presage a hardening of the EU stance in the current round of trade negotiations. The parliament said that EU data protection standards should not be undermined as a result of the EU-US trade deal, warning ominously that it would be "unfortunate if the efforts to conclude a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which demonstrates the commitment to further strengthen the partnership between the EU and the US, were to be affected by the recent allegations.”