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War on terror being used as a ‘moral blank cheque’ by spies

Collecting private data has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it simply legitimises Orwellian-style spying by the security services – warns Gabriele Zimmer MEP

The United States National Security Agency, as well as intelligence services in the EU, have violated European law. Their actions have breached privacy clauses in the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Thanks to the revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden, which show how the NSA overstepped its remit, we know that many citizens, European diplomats, heads of state and MEPs are being spied on by America.

This week in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, we heard from US congressman Jim Sensenbrenner who has tabled a bill that purports to rein in the NSA. Worryingly, however, this legislation actually goes in the opposite direction and aims to legitimise the NSA’s actions. It is gaining significant support in Washington. This is not a positive development and we must keep up the pressure on our American counterparts to demand answers.

Parliament also heard from Facebook, Google and Microsoft executives who claim they did not give the NSA access to the realms of private data they possess. Their well-worded legal statements do not go far enough and we need a more extensive enquiry. In the United Kingdom the heads of MI5, MI6 and the Government Communication Headquarters were grilled in a House of Commons hearing. Here, we heard the use of mass-surveillance techniques defended in the name of catching terrorists with GCHQ Chief Ian Lobban claiming Snowden’s leaks have been damaging to the work of the security services. They all expressed concern about legal oversight of intelligence services. But can we really accept that intelligence services have carte blanche to do as they please?

We reject outright the so-called ‘war on terror’ being used as a moral blank cheque to carry out what is nothing short of criminal activity. We will not stand for these breaches of fundamental rights. Collecting private data clearly has nothing to do with combating terrorism. We need an urgent review of anti-terror laws. All these agencies need to do is cry ‘terrorism’ and Orwellian-style spying is legitimised.

Protecting our civil liberties and data privacy rights has never been so important. The EU-US free trade talks are restarting this week but we cannot continue negotiations on an agreement until immediate measures are taken on the protection of personal data. Given our past experiences with SWIFT bank transfers, we need to end subservience to the US through partnership agreements The European Parliament must fight for a directive on the transfer of information between states.

Like Chelsea Manning before him, Edward Snowden has made a huge sacrifice in bringing these issues to the fore. We must never forget that it is thanks to him that these skeletons have been brought out the cupboard. Alongside our work on upholding the value of privacy, we must uphold the rights of whistleblowers and afford them our protection and solidarity. He has been labelled an enemy of America and democracy by his detractors. Although for the Left, his actions are nothing short of heroic.

Gabriele Zimmer MEP is president of European United Left/Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament

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