Charlie Hebdo attacks : the downfall of EU privacy ?

One minute of silence in front of the EU Parliament for the Charlie Hebdo victims. CC/Flickr/EU Parliament

One minute of silence in front of the EU Parliament for the Charlie Hebdo victims. CC/Flickr/EU Parliament

France is still licking its wounds after the end of the manhunt of the suspected perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack that took place on January 7. Four more people lost their lives in yesterday’s hostage takings, in addition to the deaths of the three suspects.

Meanwhile at EU-level, the reactions are already cascading, and one of the unintended victims might very well be EU privacy.

In recent years, the European Union has been the stage of a crucial debate on the importance of an individual’s privacy when confronted to national security or economic concerns. One of the most famous illustrations of this debate involved the development of a so-called right to be forgotten (or right to erasure) for European netizens, first in the upcoming Data Protection regulation, then in a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last May.

Yet privacy is likely to become much more difficult to defend when faced with the trauma of terrorist attacks. Several prominent EU officials, such as European Council President Donald Tusk, have already asked for progress on the EU passenger and name record (PNR) draft directive, which has been on hold in the European Parliament for the last three years after being voted down by one of its commitees in 2011. The proposal would give access to the Member States’ police to the details of any passenger traveling in the European Union.

In mid-2014, the CJEU had already struck down a EU directive on data retention on the grounds that invading the privacy of people that were not suspected of any crime was in breach of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter.

“We need to talk about the problems investigators are having in connecting the dots and the information that is already there instead of passing new measures for the blanket collection of data from everyone,” German Green MEP Jan Phillip Albrecht said on January 9 about the PNR draft directive to the EU Observer.

Albrecht is also one of the most prominent MEPs involved in the development of the aforementioned EU Data Protection regulation.

Some dates to watch out for in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack for further EU developments : 

* January 19, 2015 : Foreign Affairs Council

* January 28, 201 : Home Affairs Council