As a member of the civil rights, justice and home affairs committee in the European parliament I have raised serious concerns to the commission on the recent US surveillance programme scandal and its impact on the possible EU-US free trade agreement. European citizens do worry about the uncontrolled and unauthorised use of their personal data both within the US and the EU.
Both rights to privacy and data protection are fundamental for EU citizens. They must be fully and mutually respected by EU member states and by private companies in all their international agreements with third countries and the US.
The revelations about the US national security agency's Prism programme have an impact on the ongoing negotiations on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, where an agreement should be based on transparency and clarity between the partners.
"The revelations about the US national security agency's Prism programme have an impact on the ongoing negotiations on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership"
However, the Prism programme undermined mutual trust. The US has conducted industrial espionage by engaging itself in data mining of highly confidential and sensitive business information on a global scale.
It is my personal opinion that negotiations should be temporally put on hold, before a framework agreement between EU and US is reached, so that legal procedures are further clarified as regards data requests and maximum transparency for the general public and organisations.
Obtaining information from private companies' servers without the consent of either the companies or the users concerned, does not comply at all with European data privacy standards. European citizens need clear answers. It seems that they are not convinced, so far, about the real objective of the Prism programme.
Is it to combat terrorism and cybercrime, or rather to gain unfair competitive advantage over other countries by means of unfair business practices? But even if it is a matter of national security, this cannot be at the expense of EU citizens' private life and confidential information. This is the message that the European commission, whose lack of prompt reaction in the aftermath of the Prism scandal was disappointing, should transmit in future EU-US talks.
It is my strong personal belief that the commission should adopt a tougher approach when data protection of EU citizens is on the table, having in mind previous experience with relevant EU-US deals on data security, namely Swift and the passenger name record system. It must ensure that the highest standards of data privacy, for which the European parliament has been always struggling, are used as a benchmark in the EU-US free trade agreement negotiations.
The recent US surveillance programme scandal has revealed how important it is to agree upon a solid and strengthened piece of EU legislation on data protection. In any case the EU has a legal and moral obligation to protect its citizens from espionage practices and abuse of their personal data.