EU votes to support suspending U.S. data sharing agreements, including passenger flight data

EU votes to support suspending U.S. data sharing agreements, including passenger flight data

Summary: The European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution that would back the Commission should it wish to suspend data sharing agreements with the U.S., such as the passenger name records system, in light of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency.

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TOPICS: EU
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(Image: European Parliament via live broadcast)

The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a joint, cross-party resolution to begin investigations into widespread surveillance of Europeans by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

In the vote, 483 voted for the resolution, 98 against, and 65 abstained on a vote that called on the U.S. to suspend and review any laws and surveillance programs that "violate the fundamental right of EU citizens to privacy and data protection," as well as Europe's "sovereignty and jurisdiction."

The vote also gave backing to the suspension of data sharing deals between the two continents, should the European Commission take action against its U.S. ally.

Thursday's plenary session highlights the strained diplomatic relationship between the EU and the U.S. over recent revelations that came to light in June.

The U.S. government faces continued criticism and pressure from its international allies following news that its intelligence agencies spied on foreign nationals under its so-called PRISM program. The U.K. government was also embroiled in the NSA spying saga, after its signals intelligence intercepting station GCHQ tapped submarine fiber optic cables under its own secret program, code named Tempora.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Commission is examining whether the U.K. broke EU law, which could lead to fines imposed by the highest court in Europe.

British MEP Sarah Ludford told ZDNet in an emailed statement: "There is no doubt that the U.S. needs to answer some difficult questions with regard to its huge spying operations in Europe," adding: "But refusing to even start trade talks with the U.S. that could bring up to 400,000 jobs in the U.K. alone would be economically irresponsible, and not assist the EU's efforts in protecting the privacy of its citizens."

Thursday's vote also expressed "concern" about other EU member states' involvement, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland, in similar surveillance programs.

Suspend air travel if it helps, says Parliament

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in a plenary session in Strasbourg voted in favor of a section of the resolution that called on the Commission to "give consideration to all the instruments at their disposal in discussions and negotiations with the U.S. [...] including the possible suspension of the passenger name record (PNR) and terrorist finance tracking program (TFTP) agreements."

Should the Commission decide it necessary to suspend the data sharing agreement of passenger details — including personal and sensitive individual data — it could ultimately lead to the grounding of flights between the EU and the U.S.

Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld said in a statement after the vote: "We must consider now if the PNR and SWIFT agreements are still tenable in the circumstances."

Critics say PNR data has never helped catch a suspected criminal or terrorist before. SWIFT data sharing, which provides U.S. authorities with secure banking details in a bid to crack down on terrorist financing, could also be suspended.

A spokesperson for the D66 delegation in Brussels confirmed by email that the English version of the joint motion is "the right one and is leading," despite claims that there were "translation error[s]" between the different versions of the joint resolution.

An EU source familiar with proceedings confirmed that the Commission now has the authority from the Parliament to suspend PNR and TFTP, but it falls at the Commission's discretion. Resolutions passed by the Parliament are not legally binding, but give backing to the Commission should the executive body wish to enact measures against a foreign power or entity.

A Commission spokesperson confirmed that there are "no deadlines" on deciding whether it will follow up on the Parliament's resolution.

ZDNet has put in questions to EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, whose department oversees EU-U.S. agreements, such as PNR, TFTP, and SWIFT, but did not hear back at the time of writing. (If we hear back, we will update the piece.)

EU-U.S. trade talks to go ahead

The Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee was given the authority by Thursday's vote to set up an inquiry to gather evidence from both U.S. and EU sources to assess the impact of the surveillance activities on EU citizens' fundamental right to privacy and data protection.

The Committee will present its conclusions in a resolution by the end of this year.

Another amendment sought to resolve the European political asylum status of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a number of classified documents to the media relating to the NSA's activities. The amendment was rejected by the Parliament, all but ruling out the EU assisting the whistleblower in his legal battle with the U.S.

In 't Veld added in her comments: "In a democratic state, whistleblowers breaking the law to expose illegal acts by governments should be protected by law against the wrath of governments. Democracies dispense justice, not revenge."

MEPs also voted to reject a number of amendments that specifically called for the suspension in Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) discussions. Three similar amendments in total were shot down by parliamentarians.

The TTIP agreement is worth billions of dollars for both the U.S. and EU economies, and has "nothing to do with the spying allegations, and, therefore, can not easily be put at risk," said European People's Party spokesperson Daniel Caspary in a statement (German).

President of the Commission José Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday: "Negotiations on TTIP are and will remain top priority."

Topic: EU

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26 comments
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  • And people wonder why American ancestors left Europe!

    Happy Independence Day!
    kenosha77a
    • The Founding Fathers were the Stasi?

      I don't get your point.

      So the founding fathers broke from Europe in order to mount a spying campaign against their fellow Americans which is greater than that of the East German Stasi and the Soviet KGB against their own respective people and no doubt the greatest subversion of a nation's privacy by their own government in the recorded history of the homo sapien species? Is that why they left Europe?

      I really don't understanding what point you're trying to make.
      Xippy
      • Ever hear of the term throwing the baby out with the bath water

        The Founding Fathers were not Stasi. They never sought to exclude travel to Europe or prevent business transactions between GB or other European countries during or after the War of Independence.

        The Stasi, or any other police state agency you choose as an example, exist by sowing fear among their citizens, either thru direct intimidation of ALL their citizens or by suggestion that any population group outside of their influence is evil and dangerous to their citizens and should be avoided, by "Law", if necessary.

        The NSA have not prevented travel to or commerce with any European country as the EU have voted to do.
        kenosha77a
        • ...and Americans wonder why the world hates them.

          You are talking about the Stasi, right? So the US is not "sowing fear among their citizens, either thru direct intimidation of ALL their citizens or by suggestion that any population group outside of their influence is evil and dangerous"? I almost fell off my chair when I read that.
          So what's the little caper the NSA and US government has been up to then? The US government has been running around threatening every country who may dare to give Edward Snowden asylum, including blocking the travel of a foreign President. What was his crime? Telling the TRUTH because he could not stand for what was happening before his very eyes. Yeah, lets all hang around and call him a coward for not hanging around waiting to be imprisoned and tortured by the US government.
          "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. " I'm pretty sure the Founding Fathers would hang their heads in shame if they saw what their vision has been corrupted into.
          SuperluminalX
          • Check out the recent ZDNet blog about France's own PRISM like activities

            And then England has it's own version of the NSA that works hand in hand with Scotland Yard overlooking the activities of English citizens.

            Please stop calling the kettle black. If you believe the EU actions were hypocritical or politically self-serving, as I do, then agree with my original post. if you wish to make Mr. Snowden a hero than so be it. But that was not the original issue that I responded to.
            kenosha77a
          • ...and so it's OK then?

            The EU has voted to reconsider any laws and co-operation with their US puppet masters that infringe of the rights of their citizens. Were they supposed to sit on their hands and let the US continue to victimize their citizens? That some member states voted against the proposal probably speaks volumes to their complicity. They also deserve to be revealed and held up to condemnation.
            It remains that despite their own black intentions that the US used its position to go beyond what any other nation was even capable of. 'One ring to rule them all', indeed. The US effectively declared everyone outside the US as a target without any rights and trampled the rights of its own people in the process. I'm sure the EU is left wondering; with friends like the US who needs enemies?
            SuperluminalX
          • SuperliminalX...The EU has non elected law makers

            And has their own spying programs. These have gone on for years and I can't speak for other Americans, but it has not caused the least bit of "fear" for me or my family or anyone I know. Perhaps those that have reason to be afraid are becoming fearful? Clearly the intent by the NSA, the UK program, the French program and I'm sure others, is the security of it's free citizens from harm by those who don't live by any law.
            This outcry by liberals is typical but the moment their world is shattered by terrorism they'll be demanding help from their government.
            xuniL_z
          • BINGO

            nailed it.
            ScanBack
          • Envy and hate are different, but now you see why the world views the EU

            as hypocrites. they complain about being spied on while spying on everyone themselves, and no amount of excuses on your part will change that.

            and don't confuse envy with hate because the world will always have people that hate those that have things they don't.

            its one of the reasons why British people in this country revolted against the corrupt british government.
            corrpt
            DontUseGoogleAtAll!
          • "The world" - to a raving jingoist maybe

            As obviously passed your attention, Croatia just JOINED the EU. So it can't be as disliked as you'd like to paint it. But it is in fact only further testimony of your lack of awareness of what you talk about. Britain will have to answer for its actions. There is easy redress for anyone within Europe. There is no redress whatsoever for European companies harmed by industrial espionage by the NSA.
            hydroxide
          • Huh?

            "Telling the TRUTH because he could not stand for what was happening before his very eyes. " He contracted with the NSA JUST TO STEAL the documents. There was nothing going on before his eyes...if he was an employee that would be different. and the NSA is security agency. Sheesh the guys a schmuck.
            ScanBack
          • What I find funny is

            you guys think this is limited to the US. Every EU country of any significance is doing this especially the one's with low-life terrorist attacks. They just like the attention going to the US. And when it all stops - God help us. Then the scum bag Muslim extremists and basically all extremists now have a cart blanch.
            ScanBack
        • Unprecedented spying on your own people

          The effort and technological ability for the US government to spy on Americans is unprecedented.

          This makes the revered Constitution look like a useless pile of pop which can be subverted at will by Washington.
          Xippy
        • They have done no such thing

          and it requires a great deal of dishonesty to claim so. There was neither a vote to prevent travel nor commerce. There was a vote to reject demands that the United States put on such travel and commerce taking place.

          So, yes, the NSA has prevented travel to and commerce with European countries, because they have demonstrated that agreements on what data the US will get and how they are used are meaningless. If they are meaningless, it should be possible to suspend them without consequences. If the US invokes consequences nonetheless, it is the US suspending travel and commerce.
          hydroxide
        • You're an idiot.

          How can you side With our government against the EU in this case? By the way I'm an American and I don't even like the EU, but I'm with them on this one. And to be clear when I say I don't like the EU I'm referring to the organization not the people of Europe.
          j-mccurdy@...
      • i agree that you don't understand what he is talking about

        And has it occurred to you that the reason that the East German and KGB didn’t spy against its people in the way you are talking about was because the technology didn’t exist? Americans must be bad because they dropped atom bombs on Japan. The Spanish never used them against the Mayans and the Romans never used them against anybody. See my point. But how do you know they aren’t doing it now? We just found out that France and Britton are doing just that themselves. But I guess they get a free pass, because they’re spying for you.
        DontUseGoogleAtAll!
  • Anyone who believes

    Europe, China, Russia and the rest of the world isn't trying to spy on each other is deluded!
    It's funny how these "Whistle blowers" are happy to run of and hide in countries that have at least the same if not a lot worse human right abuses!

    Don't they think these countries need exposing?
    Weird lot!
    martin_js
  • The "bad" countries are loving this

    "hide in countries that have at least the same if not a lot worse human right abuses!"

    These country's are gleefully rubbing their hands together because the US has spent its post-WW2 years claiming to hold a moral high ground in standing up for freedom and now that appears to be just an empty house of cards.
    Xippy
  • EU is America's lapdog.

    Yes, it's as simple as that.

    They run around like headless chickens, condemning the NSA spying operations, they threaten all kinds of ramifications but when it comes to real action.... they deny Snowden political asylum as soon as the application lands of their desks. They stop a plane with a head of state on it for a suspicion that Snowden is on board.

    EU would have a little credibility if, instead of having allowed illegal rendition flights, they now allowed unobstructed flights for heads of state.
    z_darius@...
  • Snowden

    belongs in prison.
    hoppmang