Transatlantic data protection – the long road to compromise

IMG_1644 (Kopie)The issue over the massive collection of data of foreign nationals’ private phone conversation (German Chancellor prominently among them) was met with outrage across Europe – to the great surprise of many in the US, who, quite matter-of-factly, expect no less of a nation’s intelligence agencies: the surveillance of potential threats abroad.

As Sir Graham Watson MEP pointed out the issue may be so “thorny because of the difference in perception”.  E.g. the current German chancellor was born and raised in the socialist East, the German Democratic Republic, after all, where government agents not only listened in to phone conversations, but an extensive system of citizen-on-citizens espionage was encouraged. The experience with authoritarianism in continental Europe, an experience the United States and the UK fortunately never underwent, so Watson, explains the European sensitivities and sharpens the need for a constructive approach towards balancing the concerns for the right to an individual’s privacy and the security of society.IMG_1588 (Kopie)

In reaction to the controversy, the European Parliaments Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, of which Sir Graham Watson is a Substitute Member, has set up inquiry into these issues and has issued an extensive report which will be voted on by the European Parliament in March. In reality, Watson continued, there is much cooperation between the European intelligence agencies and it would be in the European Union’s interest to extend the “Five Eyes” agreement between the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK to the whole of the European Union. The UK should realize that it is in her interest to act as a bridge builder in this issue.

IMG_1612 (Kopie)Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society sees the European Parliament’s initiative not as some noble deed, but rather as an attempt to increase its own oversight over European intelligence agencies. While the European Parliamentarians of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe are having a difficult time balancing civil liberty and security concerns, to him, there can be only one clear answer. “No policy maker in his right mind would tell the families of victims of terrorist activities that the individual’s right to privacy is more important than their security.”

In addition, the media has created hysteria about espionage that has nothing to do with reality: “nobody at the NSA is sitting there, reading your emails; they just look at patterns in order to identify potential targets. The key to successful terrorist attacks is training and thus the number one priority in order to prevent them is to track communication links to identify individuals who are being trained.” Instead of idolizing Snowden as the champion of individual rights against the state, one should keep in mind that he did not follow whistle-blowing protocol. He did not take his accusations to his superiors, to regulators, or law enforcement agencies, but put sensitive information directly into the hands of the US’ main competitors, Russia and China.

IMG_1649 (Kopie)Snowden’s revelations did not primarily lead to security breaches, but directly hurt US businesses, as William Echikson, Head of Free Expression for Europe, the Middle East and Africa of Google, explained: Google currently operates in 150 countries. Now, Google is faced with a current trend toward more and more national laws that are being passed to censor or block content, which is an alarming development with regards to freedom of speech. Even more distressing is that Google is being asked by governments to build specific filters so that content matching certain key words cannot be accessed through the national google service. Prism has hurt US companies internationally, which is why Google has decided that users as Goggle’s customers deserve to know when the US government has asked for a specific user’s data.

To come to a data protection or no-spy agreement with the US some in the European Parliament and the public want so suspend negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP. This, according to Watson, would be counterproductive. The TTIP negotiations shouldn’t be diverted or sidelined. A mutual understanding between the US and the EU over data security and espionage is crucial, but it should be followed through separately, Sir Graham concluded. The issues are autarchic and need to be dealt with by separate sets of experts. Mendoza agreed pointing out that something as pragmatic and vital as TTIP should not be stopped by a political issue.

Susan Schneider

Fotos: FNF Europe