Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

The European Parliament yesterday voted on a Resolution regarding PRISM – the  spy system used by United States government agencies to look at the emails and web browsing habits of EU citizens. The Resolution calls condemns the electronic surveillance of European citizens by the United States and by the UK governments,  but it falls a long way short of the expectations of citizens who feel that their privacy could have been put at risk.  In particular, it fails to take advantage of the EU-US trade talks (TTIP)  as a political weapon that could have been wielded to advantage.

 The European Parliament resolution on the US National Security Agency surveillance programme, surveillance bodies in various Member States and their impact on EU citizens’privacy is non-legislative, meaning that it’s not a law but it does express a position on behalf of the European Parliament. It has been agreed between the different Party Groups, including the EPP and the Socialists.

 The timid – or one might say – diplomatic – wording suggests an EPP influence, unwilling to court controversy, even though, in the current situation, any stand againt the US would not be particularly controversial. There was an alternative, stronger Resolution proposed by the Green group. It was tabled,  but it did not get the support it would have needed to gain a majority and was dropped.

 No-where does the Resolution flex any political muscle on the part of the European Parliament. For example, it does not call for the TTIP talks to halt until the US has at least provided an explanation of what surveillance it is undertaking.

 Instead, the Resolution incorporates a list of strong condemnations. For example, it Expresses serious concern at the revelations relating to the alleged surveillance programmes . Such words are not much more than a slapping of the NSA’s wrists  and will have about as much effect.

 Apart from that it has two main points. Firstly, the Resolution instructs the Civil Liberties committee to work with the European Commission on an investigation into the surveillance activities of the United States and European governments.

 Such an investigation  may have some effect as long as the issue remains under the political spotlight. But when Edward Snowden has gone to whatever fate awaits him and the issue falls away from the mainstream news, then this review may also quietly fall out of the EU agenda.

 Secondly, the Resolution

 “Calls on the Commission to ensure that EU data protection standards, and the negotiations on the current EU data protection package, are not undermined as a result of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US

In other words,  the whole issue of data protection will be kept out of the TTIP talks.

This may make sense.  I’m not sure it’s appropriate to put data protection policy into trade talks. The risk would be that EU law would be decided within the boundaries of  the trade negotiators’ meeting room, and in those circumstances, the United States could try to impose its will – and the will of its large industrial corporations – onto the EU.

 On the other hand, the PRISM controversy does give the EU some political power to recover an advantage over the US. Following the Article 42 fiasco (the removal by the European Commission of an Article that would enable EU countries to reject NSA  PRISM  requests), the European Parliament's lack of courage and failure to use this  advantage would seem to indicate a political timidity on the part of the EU that does not bode well. In particular, we should manage our expectations  for the TTIP negotiations, which will commence next week, as planned.

This is an original article from and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, PRISM: MEPs fall short of calling halt to trade talks, 4 July  2013. Commercial users - please contact me.


Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.


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