THE EUROPEAN UNION JUSTICE COMMISSIONER has spoken out on Data Protection Day about national security agency surveillance.
European Union Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding delivered a speech yesterday. Fresh from the latest shocking revelations about the sheer scale of communications surveillance, she said, "Now I know why the 'Angry Birds' look so angry."
Reding was referring to a report earlier this week that games like Angry Birds are sources of user data. She used the game as an example of how intrusive Big Brother surveillance touches European citizens.
"What happens when a citizen wants to play a game on a tablet? He or she has to pay for the app, but doesn't want personal data, for instance location data, to be collected. He or she might also be spied upon. Now I know why the 'Angry Birds' look so angry. Often with applications, the rule is 'take it or leave it'. That's when trust evaporates. That's when people feel forced to part with their privacy," she said.
"I believe that this is a question of individuals' rights being overridden by technological change. That's why it is important to put individuals back in control by updating their rights. Explicit consent, the right to be forgotten, the right to data portability and the right to be informed of personal data breaches are important elements. They will help close the growing rift between citizens and the companies with which they share their data, willingly or otherwise."
The present situation is untenable and national security agencies are like lepidopterists to citizen butterflies.
While US politicians have claimed that it will do more to provide transparency and support the civil rights of its own citizens, it has not made the same soothing promises to European countries. In the Council of Europe US communications surveillance in Germany was discussed yesterday by a panel including TOR software developer Jacob Appelbaum. The consensus there was that there is a pressing need for reform, and this is something Reding would agree with.
"For Safe Harbour to be fully roadworthy the US will have to service it. This summer, we will see how well those repairs were carried out. Safe Harbour has to be strengthened or it will be suspended," she added.
"Secondly, we have to agree on strong data protection rules in the law enforcement context. We need a robust EU-US data protection agreement in the law enforcement sector (the so-called Umbrella Agreement) which ensures EU citizens keep their rights when their data is processed in the US."
Reding is no fan of the existing data protection environment and said that Europe cannot pretend to stand on higher ground. This she suggested could be most keenly seen in the UK where the GCHQ frequently rides its TEMPORA pony into the communications town.
"If the EU wants to be credible in its efforts to rebuild trust, if it wants to act as an example for other continents, it also has to get its own house in order," she said.
"When the reports about TEMPORA emerged, the European Commission wrote to the UK Government expressing its concerns and asking questions about the nature and the scope of the programme. The response was short: hands off, this is national security."
Reding has an eight point Data Protection plan that includes proper judicial oversight and requests that the catch-all banner of "national security" not be waved about quite so regularly.
"The recent revelations have shown [that] at the moment, national governments in Europe are unable to guarantee citizens' personal data is well protected," she added. "The Data Protection Compact would change this. It would enable us Europeans to exercise our right of digital self-determination. Not to depend on decisions made elsewhere." µ