Press release new ceps study argues European surveillance programmes should not escape eu scrutiny

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New CEPS study argues European surveillance programmes should not escape EU scrutiny

European intelligence agencies are engaging in the large-scale surveillance of communications data, practices which may stand in violation of EU law, according to a new study assessing EU member states’ surveillance programmes produced by the Justice and Home Affairs Unit of the influential Brussels-based think tank CEPS, and the Centre d'Etudes sur les Conflits, Liberté et Sécurité (CCLS) for the European Parliament.

The study, which will be presented to MEPs at the European Parliament’s inquiry on electronic surveillance of EU citizens on 7th November 2013, finds ‘upstream’ data interception (tapping directly the communications infrastructure, such as internet cables) to be practiced by intelligence agencies of France, Germany, the UK and Sweden. The authors contend that the scale of interception programmes run by France, Germany and Sweden is unlikely to rival the magnitude of communications surveillance operated by the US and the UK, which have come to light in the wake of the disclosure by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. However, evidence points to the existence of extensive data sharing between national intelligence agencies in a complex web of intelligence networks dominated by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).

Assessing the legality of European surveillance programmes, the study finds that national legal frameworks in Europe covering large-scale communications surveillance are ambiguous and contain loopholes, while national oversight bodies charged to scrutinise member state intelligence agencies lack the capacity to effectively monitor the lawfulness of intelligence services’ interception of communications data.

CEPS Senior Research Fellow Sergio Carrera said: “These findings take us beyond the question of balancing privacy and national security. The evidence of mass surveillance of communications by intelligence services is incompatible with the democratic rule of law foundations of the EU.”

The study calls on the European institutions to take concerted action in the face of mounting evidence of European surveillance schemes and their negative impact on the privacy and data protection rights of EU citizens. Contrary to claims that the EU lacks competence to intercede in surveillance activities of national intelligence agencies, the violation of minimum human rights and rule of law standards set by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights may be invoked under EU law to review covert national security practices. Member states’ surveillance programmes may also undermine EU internal security and jeopardize the coherence of external action, by exchanging data with third states outside legal frameworks designed to regulate data sharing (such as the EU-US Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement - MLAA).

The study puts forward a number of recommendations to the European Parliament including drawing up a professional code for the transnational management of data within the EU and recommends the Parliament to examine the possibility of a European Privacy Cloud as well as a European level protection of whistleblowers. The authors conclude that “a lack of action by the European Parliament would profoundly undermine the trust and confidence that EU citizens have in the European institutions.”

Further information

To read the full study refer to D. Bigo et al. Mass Surveillance of Personal Data by EU Member States and its Compatibility with EU Law, CEPS Liberty and Security Working Paper Series, No. 61, November 2013.

The study is available for download on the CEPS website via the following link:

The findings will be presented at the 8th Hearing of the LIBE Committee Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens, which will take place on Thursday, the 7th of November between 10.25 and 12.15 in room JANQ41 of the European Parliament. See the website of the LIBE Committee for further details:
About CEPS

Founded in Brussels in 1983, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) is widely recognised as the most experienced and authoritative think tank operating in the European Union today. CEPS acts as a leading forum for debate on EU affairs, distinguished by its strong in-house research capacity, complemented by an extensive network of partner institutes throughout the world.

For further information contact:

Joanna Parkin +32 2 229 39 53

Marco Incerti: +32 2 229 3970 +32 485 485 435

Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Place du Congrès 1, B – 1000 Brussels;

Tel. + 32 2 229 3911

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