Safe Harbour agreement

Brussels, 17/01/2014 (Agence Europe) – While the US President Barack Obama was due, on Friday 17 January, to announce reform (already described as minimal by the US media) of US surveillance provisions, MEPs called on the European Commission during a debate on 15 January to “immediately” suspend its so-called “Safe Harbour” agreement. Brought into question following revelations about the PRISM scandal then regarding the worldwide spying of the American National Security Agency (NSA), the agreement allows the major US companies such as Google, AOL and Facebook to use the personal data of Europeans on condition that European provisions in force are complied with, in this case those of the 1995 framework directive that is under review.

The various revelations relating to ways in which NSA was also able to gain access to Europeans' data via the above companies has made the agreement obsolete it the eyes of most MEPs. The EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL Groups are all in favour of suspending the agreement and this request is officially set out in the report by Claude Moraes (S&D, UK) on American surveillance. It will be put to the vote end January at the civil liberties committee. It is with this in mind that the Liberal Group asked for a debate to be held on Wednesday on the Safe Harbour agreement. The group also wanted the Commission to give more detail on the requests addressed to Washington on 27 November last (in a communication) with a view to resolving the detected failings.

Commissioner Viviane Reding lent herself to the task willingly and presented to MEPs the 13 recommendations that she had sent to the US authorities at the time. She expects the recommendations will be implemented for summer 2014.

The commissioner nonetheless said she was not very enthusiastic about the idea of calling for Safe Harbour to be suspended as, she explained on several occasion, this could even directly penalise European companies.

For some MEPs, however, especially Sophie in't Veld (ALDE, Netherlands), the timetable is too long. Safe Harbour should be suspended and a solution reached that also fully protects European citizens “by the European elections”, she stressed.

In Washington, Barack Obama is to set out the plans for reform of surveillance practices, plans that could make it an obligation for intelligence agencies to obtain permission from a “secret court” before using telephone data. According to the media, he could also announce the creation of a public representative to tackle the problems of protection of privacy before the secret courts governing the intelligence system. However, nothing is expected to be amended in the PRISM programme which is precisely responsible for spying on non-American nationals.