European Parliament Adopts Surveillance Resolution Aimed at Mass Surveillance and Prompting Progress on Safe Harbor 2.0

On October 29, 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens (the “Resolution”). Positioned as a follow-up to its resolution of 12 March 2014 in which the Parliament called for the immediate suspension of Safe Harbor and put forward a number of recommendations to limit access to personal data of European citizens as part of mass surveillance, the Resolution calls on the European Commission to “reflect immediately on alternatives to Safe Harbor and on the impact of the judgment [from the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Schrems case] on any other instruments for the transfer of personal data to the U.S.” It also calls for the European Commission to “report on the matter by the end of 2015.” In addition, the European Parliament demanded that the Commission urgently provide an update on the ongoing negotiations between US authorities and the Commission.

Some of the additional key points raised in the Resolution include the Parliament:

  • expressing disappointment in the “overall lack of sense of urgency and willingness” by the Commission and EU Member States to address those recommendations set out in Parliament’s 2014 resolution and calls on the Commission to act on these recommendations by December 2015 at the latest;
  • calling on EU Member States to drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden and grant him protection in recognition of his status as a whistleblower;
  • condemning some of the recent EU Member State laws that extend surveillance capabilities of intelligence bodies, including, for example, the UK’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014;
  • welcoming the efforts by the US to “rebuild trust through the umbrella agreement” and the passing of the Judicial Redress Act of 2015 but urges the Commission to “assess in detail precisely [and report on], how the umbrella agreement would interact with…the EU legal framework for data protection”; and
  • considering that the fundamental rights of EU citizens “remain in danger and that too little has been done to ensure their full protection in case of electronic mass surveillance”.

On the U.S. side, the Judicial Redress Act, which would permit foreign citizens of certain countries to bring civil actions under the Privacy Act of 1974 and facilitate the Umbrella Agreement, passed the House of Representatives on October 20, 2015. It is now under consideration in the Senate, where it is currently pending in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.