European Union vs PRISM?

As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the PRISM project is aimed on foreigners would you say that the European Union (European Commission) should as ask at least for the clarifications if European citizens were targeted? Read few comments.

David Lowe, Principal Lecturer, Law School, Liverpool John Moores University

This is a cause for EU citizens to be concerned regarding access to their privacy. One problem with social media is that most of the major companies are US based and in this age of instant global media what we say or post is accessible to many agencies and, as we now know, especially in the USA through the Prism project. Compounding the protection of EU citizens’ privacy is section 215 of the USA’s Patriot Act 2001 that authorises US government to obtain any ‘tangible thing’ that is relevant to foreign intelligence or terrorism. Prism has enabled the USA’s National Security Agency to have in effect a backdoor access to the servers of the major technology companies including Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft, Skype and Google, all companies that many EU citizens use on a regular if not daily basis. Part of the problem for EU citizens is the method of storage being part of the cloud computing as most of the cloud providers fall within the USA’s jurisdiction because they are USA companies or conduct their business primarily in the USA.

All EU member states have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and within each member state there is legislation governing police and state security agencies’ surveillance, especially surveillance on e-sources, most of which has judicial supervision regarding the issuing of authorities for the police and state security agencies to carry out such surveillance, we are used in the EU to having some form of legal protection of our rights. Article 8 ECHR, right to privacy and family life while being a qualified right i.e. a right where in accordance with the law and it being absolutely necessary in a democratic society under circumstances such as national security or to prevent crime the state can interfere with that right has prevented members states’ agencies from being too intrusive in their surveillance. The European Court of Human Rights does take a pragmatic stance on this issue as it held in the 1978 case of Klass v Germany that there are times surveillance is a necessary evil that needs to be conducted in a democratic society to protect citizens from harm. That said, article 8 ECHR has ensured that members states have codified legislation in place to govern the police (especially police departments like counterterrorism units) and state security agencies surveillance activities, which they must abide by. Most of the legislation in place within the EU does lay down stringent conditions when and where the police and state security agencies can conduct surveillance, especially covert surveillance on the likes of e-sources/communications. With human rights underpinning the passing of legislation in the area of surveillance in EU member states, the UK is struggling to get the Communications Data Bill through Parliament and is currently on the back-burner. If passed, this Bill would allow the police and state security agencies to monitor social media and myriad of e-sources in real time to see the content of emails, Facebook messages and so on.

I think it is with EU states having relative adherence to its citizens’ rights that the likes of the Prism project and USA security agencies in effect spying on EU citizens that has caused alarm. It is understandable why the USA and EU police and state security agencies would want to monitor such communications as terrorism is global as we saw with Tamerian Tsarnaev after the Boston bombing in April 2013 and Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowle who killed the British soldier, Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in May 2013. It has been revealed that a number of states held intelligence on these three. This is the point Barack Obama made on Sunday (9th June) when this news story broke saying that you cannot have 100% security and also have 100% privacy. While it is important for the police and state security agencies have access to e-sources, this must be tempered with judicial supervision in the granting of warrants/court orders to conduct such surveillance to stop the police and state security agencies trawling for information. The surveillance should be on targeted individuals based on intelligence those agencies have and judicial supervision should ensure that citizens’ rights are not abused especially those outside the USA. This is why it is important the EU should ask the USA for clarification if its citizens were targeted, especially as we are supposed to be allies.

Paul Arnell, Reader in Law, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University Aberdeen

Edward Snowdon’s revelations are potentially quite serious. The episode highlights the ineffectiveness of international legal regulation over the internet. It should remind us all that our personal data, and online lives, are not as secure as perhaps we think they are. From an international legal perspective, it appears that the US, through companies headquartered there, has infringed the state sovereignty of a large number of countries, including those in the EU.

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One Response

  1. As revelações do Sr.Snowdon foi um acto politico contra administração do Sr Presidente Obama e contra a sua nação ele devia ser investigado e só assim se pode saber mais desse Sir

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