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

Women, data & Troika: an exciting week for the EU Parliament

On this blog, we regularly talk about the European Union, but here is an example of the things they do every day. This week was particularly interesting in the European Parliament.

Equal pay for equal work

On March 11, the European Parliament rejected by ten votes a report calling for equal pay for equal work. The text also focused on forced resignations as a result of pregnancy and sexist stereotypes.

The most surprising characteristic of this vote was maybe not its negative outcome, but rather the high abstention rate for this vote (87 out of 674 MEPs). The absentees notably included several members of the Green Party, such as for example José Bové for France.

Click here for the detailed voting record.

This vote opposes the previous record of the Parliament, who has in recent years voted in favor of women’s rights in areas such as immigration, business, politics or reproduction.

Facebook & Google better watch out

On March 12, it was the turn of the long-awaited data protection resolution to be approved by the European Parliament. The baby of EU Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding has been in the making for years with the objective to give more control to EU citizens over their data.

EU citizens fear for their data.  Source: Special Eurobarometer 359

EU citizens fear for their data.
Source: Special Eurobarometer 359

Not only will the regulation create one single set of law on the issue for the European Union, it also introduces new concepts, such as a limited right to have companies delete your data, as well as the right to data portability. Yet despite the enthusiasm of Reding and several user-oriented NGOs and lobbies, critics have also their place in the debate.

“The text adopted at today’s plenary session of the European Parliament is over-prescriptive. It will hamper Europe’s ability to take advantage of new ways of using data. This will put Europe at a disadvantage to other parts of the world that are embracing the new technologies.” Digital Europe, an IT lobby, in the Wall Street Journal.

The data protection regulation now has to be approved by the EU’s Council of Ministers before it officially becomes part of the law of the Union.

The Troika, a bone of contention

On March 13, the Parliament attacked the Troika’s actions by supporting not one, but two resolutions for its reform. For those in need of a reminder, the Troika is a trio of institutions (IMF, EC & ECB) put in charge of assisting Greece, Portugal & Ireland in their handling of the economic crisis. Its actions have been harshly criticized by the international community and the countries placed under its scrutiny.

“The EP’s inquiry has uncovered unacceptable complacency, with assistance programmes based on overoptimistic and half-baked forecasts. It has also highlighted potential conflicts of interest and the worrying lack of democratic accountability of the Troika. This must be redressed. Assistance programmes should be subject to democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament.” Philippe Lamberts (Greens/European Free Alliance, Belgian MEP)

Click here for all the topics debated and voted upon in the European Parliament this week.