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The European Parliament is one step closer to its goal of establishing a Digital Habeas Corpus after a meeting in Brussels, yesterday, of its Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE Committee).  On January 8, the committee, headed by Claude Moraes, released its Draft Resolution to report the findings of its investigation into the Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens and to recommend a Plan of Action.

At yesterday’s meeting there was discussion of the 521 amendments submitted to the Draft Resolution and the LIBE Committee’s deadline to complete its work before the European Parliament elections in May when all 751 seats will be up for reelection.

Jan Albrecht, affiliated with a coalition of Green and Progressive political parties in Germany, gave the most noteworthy statement of the session.  Speaking about the importance of obtaining testimony from Edward Snowden, Albrecht said:

“We should allow the European citizens and also the national parliaments to find a solution for getting the full amount of information which is available."
A video of his statement [in English] is available on the European Parliament website.

A week ago, the LIBE committee confirmed that an invitation for Snowden to provide a statement is still on the table.

Here’s Albrecht’s statement from a Parliament debate on January 15:
"Edward Snowden’s revelations have shown that we need better protection for our personal data. The way in which big data business and our intelligence services are invading our privacy and analyzing our lives today is outrageous. But although millions of citizens and consumers publicly complain about this, not a single EU government is taking action to stop it. Here too I hear no consequences.

Instead, the voice of Google, Eric Schmidt, calls privacy an anomaly and wants us to say goodbye to privacy and data protection. The US Internet companies from Silicon Valley successfully lobbied against any regulation of their data collection activities in Washington DC. Here in Europe they just ignored them. By using the Safe Harbor [Privacy Policy] decision they evade effective enforcement by European authorities.

We are at the point where all of this has to stop, and it is this Parliament which has the power to do so. We have been insisting on the adoption of a single European data protection law for over two years now. Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Council of Ministers just went around in circles and in lengthy debates, without the willingness to determine even their own position on an effective privacy and data protection framework.

And big data business from Silicon Valley says “Thank you," while the European Unions’ citizens and consumers lose their trust in our governments’ ability to protect even the most fundamental rights they have.

If we do not stop the circumvention of European rules by US companies by passing our single data protection regulation and putting pressure on the United States – and also by cancelling the Safe Harbor [Privacy Policy] decision – we will not only lose the sovereignty of the European Union but we will also lose the voters, who will stay at home, as they do not expect us to protect their interests and rights.


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The Digital Habeas Corpus proposed by the LIBE Committee would have a broad impact on transatlantic relations and it would seriously inhibit the ability of American enterprises to conduct business in Europe. [Comments in brackets are mine.]

Priority Plan: A European Digital Habeas Corpus

Conclude the EU-US Umbrella Agreement ensuring proper redress mechanisms for EU citizens in the event of data transfers from the EU to the US for law-enforcement purposes; [The Umbrella Agreement is a framework of cooperative treaties that regulate the exchange of data between the EU and US for law enforcement and judicial actions. Its original intent was to establish consistent practices on both sides of the Atlantic for counterterrorism and other criminal activities, such as money laundering.]
Suspend the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program agreement until
(i)    the Umbrella Agreement negotiations have been concluded;
(ii)    a thorough investigation has been concluded on the basis of an EU analysis, and all concerns raised by Parliament in its resolution of 23 October have been properly addressed;
[US officials at the Treasury Dept. refused to respond to certain questions during the LIBE Committee investigation.]
Suspend Safe Harbor until a full review has been conducted and current loopholes are remedied, making sure that transfers of personal data for commercial purposes from the Union to the US can only take place in compliance with highest EU standards;
[Safe Harbor is the EU Privacy Policy that American enterprises conducting business in Europe have agreed to observe.]
Protect the rule of law and the fundamental rights of EU citizens, with a particular focus on threats to the freedom of the press and professional confidentiality (including lawyer-client relations) as well as enhanced protection for whistleblowers;
Develop a European strategy for IT independence (at national and EU level);
Develop the EU as a reference player for a democratic and neutral governance of the internet;

Map of 28 countries of the European Union.
Guide to the European Union

The EU can be a confusing jumble of bureaucracies to Americans and Europeans alike.  The key leadership positions are appointed, not elected.  Without the scrutiny of the press focused on candidates during national elections, the EU Presidents remain mostly unfamiliar to the public.  

In the upcoming election for European Parliament seats, it’s not surprising that Euroskeptics on the left and the right are running campaigns that call for full or partial withdrawal from the EU.

Institution President Selected by: Responsible for:
European Parliament  Martin Schultz Members of the European Parliament Debates and passes European laws. Scrutinizes other EU institutions to make sure they are working democratically. Debates and adopts the EU's budget.
European Council Herman Van Rompuy National leaders (heads of state/government of EU countries). Passes EU laws, Coordinates economic policies of EU member countries, Signs agreements between the EU and other countries.
Approves the annual EU budget. Develops the EU's foreign and defense policies.
Coordinates law enforcement and judicial systems.
European Commission José Manuel Barroso National leaders (heads of state/government of EU countries) with the approval of the European Parliament. Proposes new laws to Parliament and the Council. Manages the EU's budget and allocates funding. Enforces EU law with the Court of Justice. Represents the EU internationally. Negotiates agreements between the EU and other countries.
The EU’s authority over the practice of mass surveillance traces back to one of its institutions: The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS)

The position of European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) was created in 2001. The responsibility of the EDPS is to make sure that all EU institutions and bodies respect people’s right to privacy when processing their personal data. ‘Processing’ covers activities such as collecting information, recording and storing it, retrieving it for consultation, sending it or making it available to other people, and also blocking, erasing or destroying data.

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