09:27 GMT22 February 2020
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    Claude Moraes Chairman of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee has said in his Friday blog: "I think people now accept that our behavior on social media is being monitored" and that "the balance between privacy and security is being shifted in the wrong direction".

    Moraes said that, while most people in Europe accepted some form of surveillance of social media was acceptable for counter-terrorism reasons, there had to be legitimate oversight of the agencies carrying it out.

    "While it is true that in the inquiry of mass surveillance we found that there was to be some concern about snooping from our own governments and intelligence services, we have higher standards of protection here in the EU and we have ambitions for higher standards of privacy than they do in the United States."

    "It is very important to have intelligence services. They perform an extremely important task to protect us from external threats, from terrorism, from other security threats," he said.

    "But it is important that we have an accountability structure so that they don't exceed their powers and that they don't invade our privacy where it is unnecessary to do so."

    The issue of mass surveillance came to a head following the revelations by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent of global mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's GCHQ.

    Moraes' comments come in the wake of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that the Safe Harbor agreement on data transfers to the US is invalid. In that case, following a complaint against Facebook by an Austrian citizen, Max Schrems, the European Court of Justice ruled on 6 October that the Commission's "adequacy decision" was invalid since the Safe Harbor agreement does not offer a level of data protection equivalent to the level of protection in place in the EU.

    In particular, the Court found that the access enjoyed by the US intelligence services to the transferred data interferes with "the right to respect for private life and the right to protection of personal data."

    No Level Playing Field

    However, the picture throughout Europe is not clear. In France, the government rushed a new intelligence bill through parliament in the wake of the Paris attacks earlier this year, turning a deaf ear to strong opposition from rights groups, judges, tech companies, trade unions, lawyers and parliamentarians, as well as criticism from international human rights bodies, according to Amnesty International.

    "The surveillance measures authorized by this law are wildly out of proportion. Large swathes of France's population could soon find themselves under surveillance on obscure grounds and without prior judicial approval," said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

    In the UK, despite protests from privacy campaigners, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is pressing for legislation — known as the Snoopers' Charter — to allows for more mass surveillance via the so-called "emergency" Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) which it will replace.

    In February, the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) held that GCHQ acted unlawfully by accessing millions of private communications, as collected in bulk in the US, prior to December 2014 — because until then rules governing the UK's access to such communications were kept secret. 

    It was the first time the Tribunal has found against the intelligence services in the court's 15-year history.

    Germany's Constitutional Court ruled against data retention in March 2010 after objections were filed by 35,000 people. However, the German parliament Friday agreed to reintroduce a revised law to collect and retain information about phone calls and internet use.

    Related:

    German Telcos Ordered to Store Phone Info Under New Data Retention Law
    Europe Struggles to Come Up With Answers to Mass Surveillance
    Court Decision Unlikely to Stop US Bulk Collection of EU Citizen Metadata
    Tags:
    data retention, civil liberties, mass surveillance, snooping, intelligence, internet, surveillance, privacy, British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Amnesty International, National Security Agency (NSA), European Parliament, European Court of Justice, Maximilian Schrems, Edward Snowden, Europe
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