Europarl Committee hears de Vries and Schaar

By EDRi · September 22, 2004

The European Parliament’s LIBE Committee (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) organised an interesting opening session of the new parliamentary year on 21 September. For the occasion, the parliamentarians were joined by colleagues from a number of national parliaments. They had invited two speakers representing the opposite poles of EU Justice and Home Affairs policy. First, Gijs de Vries, who was nominated the EU’s anti-terrorism co-ordinator in March after the Madrid bombings, followed by Peter Schaar, the chairman of the Article 29 Working Party, which brings together national Data Protection Commissioners from all 25 EU Member States.

Mr. de Vries, who was accorded considerably more speaking time than Mr. Schaar by the LIBE Chairman, French Liberal Jean-Louis Bourlange, spoke on EU counter terrorism policy in very general terms, emphasising his role to support national authorities, not to patronise them. MEPs concerns were mostly on the transposition of measures decided in the EU as part of the policy to combat terrorism in the Union’s member states.

Mr. Schaar picked three issues as examples, all of which are central in his work, and all of which show how insufficient the Article 29 Group, which may deal only with so-called First Pillar issues, is in a EU where more and more issues, especially in the fight against terrorism, also touch the so-called Third Pillar of Police and Judicial Co-operation. He announced that the Article 29 Group will urge EU decision makers to establish a similar group to deal explicitly with Third Pillar issues.

Mr. Schaar recalled that data protection has to take the usefulness of a practice into account when deciding if such a practice is proportionate. Referring to the example of the Passenger Name Record transfer the USA, he said he could not see how such details as a traveller’s e-mail address or phone number in the U.S. could add sufficient surplus value to justify such an intrusion of privacy.

In the case of biometric identifiers in EU member states’ travel documents, Mr. Schaar doubted that the principle of proportionality was respected. He recalled that biometrics added security only if the whole procedure of issuing them was secured. He said it was of foremost importance that the biometric data were stored on the documents themselves only, in a secure manner, and not in any kind of centralised database. He named biometrics as one of the cases that show the lack of democracy in EU law-making, especially when dealing with privacy-related issues. Biometrics were decided in the ICAO, a UN body without any democratic accountability, as a de facto industry standard, and without any security features. They were then imposed on the EU by the Union’s Council, which does not hold a parliamentary mandate either. Finally, the EU Parliament will only be consulted, without a right to amend the Council’s decision. And in the very end, member states will be confronted with a EU Framework Decision they will have to transpose – with very little room for the national parliaments to change anything.

The third example Schaar named was the plan for retention of traffic data resulting from telecommunication and internet usage. Again he expressed doubt about the proportionality of that measure. He said event-based freezing of particular data could be an alternative, if certain standards of data protection were met. Data retention was just one example of a growing tendency to impose on private companies an obligation to store data for law enforcement and surveillance purposes – a tendency which made it much harder for data protection commissioners to look into what’s actually happening to the data.

Article 29 Working Party

Council of the European Union: Fight against terrorism

(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, EDRI EU Affairs Director)