Europe needs stricter controls to protect citizens from spying says EU data protection supervisor

Out-Law News | 23 Jun 2014 | 2:34 pm | 1 min. read

European Union countries need stricter controls to protect citizens from spying, European data protection supervisor Peter Hustinx has said, according to Reuters.

Hustinx made his comments in a letter to European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, ahead of a European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) summit in Brussels next week, where issues of data protection and net neutrality are expected to be discussed by EU institution officials, industry leaders and other stakeholders.

"The allegations of mass surveillance by security services have rocked the trust in the ability and willingness of governments and businesses to protect individuals' personal information," Hustinx wrote, according to Reuters.

"The importance of data protection in building the European area of freedom, security and justice cannot be overstated," said Hustinx, who is responsible for ensuring that European institutions and bodies respect the right to privacy and data protection in the processing of personal data and development new policies.

Hustinx, made his comments amid ongoing public and political debate in EU countries about data protection and privacy issues.

Reports of his concerns came on the same day that the High Court in Ireland referred to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) a case brought by privacy campaigners who are seeking an investigation into allegations that companies including Facebook, which has its European headquarters in Ireland, helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) harvest email and other private data from European citizens. The referral to Europe's highest court is the latest development in the case which follows allegations by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that NSA was secretly accessing users' private data in several internet firms, including Facebook, as part of its Prism surveillance programme.

Following the Irish court's referral, the Financial Times reported that European Union justice commissioner Viviane Reding has announced that her office has begun an assessment of the "safe harbour agreement" which allows US companies including Facebook to transfer data across borders without European oversight. “The safe-harbour agreement may not be so safe after all,” Ms Reding said, adding that “it could be a loophole” that allowed companies to shift data to the US where “data protection standards are lower than our European ones”, the Financial Times said.

Hustinx's concerns also come shortly after Germany's public prosecutor launched an investigation into allegations that the US NSA bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, claims which also emerged with Snowden's allegations against the NSA.

A draft statement which is expected to be issued at the summit and which has been seen by Reuters, said it would be "crucial to ensure the protection of fundamental rights, including data protection, while addressing security concerns."