MEPs hear US privacy experts, whistleblowers and Snowden statement
The possibility of suspending EU-US trade talks, the idea of creating international standards of privacy protection and the need for genuine parliamentary oversight of surveillance activities were among the issues discussed on Monday at the fourth hearing of the Civil Liberties Committee inquiry into US and EU countries’ spying on EU citizens.
“You should not go forward with the new trade agreement [with the US] unless you have adequate assurance for the protection of privacy”, suggested Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, a US-based civil rights organisation. Some MEPs took note of his suggestion, but others rejected it. Members of the inquiry also discussed the possibility of establishing international standards for the protection of privacy.
Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer representing several whistleblowers, read a statement by Edward Snowden saying that “when I began my work, it was with the sole intention of making possible the debate we see occurring here in this body. Public debate is not possible without public knowledge (…) the surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time”. He concluded that “the work of a generation is beginning here, with your hearings, and you have the full measure of my gratitude and support”.
Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE, NL), who chaired the meeting, regretted that the US and Dutch authorities had declined the committee’s invitations to take part in the inquiry hearings.
Need for oversight
The committee also heard two former NSA employees and one former MI5 officer.
Ex-NSA senior executive Thomas Drake referred to the Stasi’s “pathological need to know everything, saying he had never imagined “that the US would use the ‘Stasi guidebook’ for its secret mass surveillance programmes”.
Ex-NSA senior executive said the US was “more eager to say ‘yes’ in the name of national security than to perform its oversight duties”.
Ex-MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon, called for meaningful UK parliamentary committee oversight of surveillance activities, including legal powers of investigation.