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 Iptegrity.com 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 iptegrity.com. 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.