EDPS on Safe Harbor and the Snowden Fall-out

February 21, 2014

In his Opinion on the Commission Communications on Rebuilding Trust in EU-US Data Flows and on the Functioning of the Safe Harbour from the Perspective of EU Citizens and Companies Established in the EU, the EDPS has called for the strict enforcement of existing European data protection laws, describing that as an essential element for restoring trust between the EU and the USA. 

Peter Hustinx, EDPS, said: “The rights of EU citizens to the protection of their privacy and personal information are enshrined in EU law. The mass surveillance of EU citizens by US and other intelligence agencies disregards these rights. As well as supporting a privacy act in the USA, Europe must insist on the strict enforcement of existing EU legislation, promote international privacy standards and swiftly adopt the reform of the EU data protection Regulation. A concerted effort to restore trust is required. ”

In his Opinion, the EDPS said that measures must include the effective application and enforcement of the instruments regulating international transfers between the EU and the USA, in particular the existing Safe Harbour principles.

In addition, the reformed EU rules on data protection should provide for clarity and consistency, particularly in terms of addressing issues such as the conditions for data transfers, processing personal information for law enforcement purposes and conflicts in international law. The EDPS regards it as essential that progress is made quickly ‘to thwart the attempts serving political and economic interests to restrict the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection’.

The EDPS goes on to say that large-scale monitoring of users’ communications is contrary to EU data protection legislation as well as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In a democratic society, users should be certain that their rights to privacy, confidentiality of their communications and protection of their personal information are respected. Any exceptions or restrictions to fundamental rights for national security purposes should only be permissible if they are strictly necessary, proportionate and in line with European case law.

The EDPS expressed the view that it is essential that fundamental rights are enforced through existing legislation as well as stronger laws and agreements in future in order to restore the confidence that has been seriously undermined by the various surveillance scandals. In a democratic society, intelligence activities should always respect the rule of law and the principles of necessity and proportionality.

The full Opinion of the EDPS is here.