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A shadow of a journalist is casted on posters announcing the visit of a European Parliament delegation visit to the US during a press conference at the European Union headquarters in Washington, DC on October 30, 2013
US Congressman and representatives from Facebook, Microsoft and Google were invited to the EP to talk on mass surveillance

The personal data protection from the US perspective

11.11.2013 - 19:24

A “scary” US draft law on mass surveillance is being prepared according to US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Chairman of the subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland security and Investigations. He was invited to speak to MEPs during the 9th parliamentary hearing on the topic held on Monday. “The bill puts everything the NSA (National Security Agency) has been doing into law,” he said.

Representatives from Facebook, Google and Microsoft also participated in the debate, called to give explanations on how they handle governments’ requests to access their data.

"It's the strongest message we can send that innocent people should not be treated as terrorists”, stressed Sensenbrenner, while he presented his Committee’s USA FREEDOM Act, a bill which  is meant to end the NSA’s bulk collection of data under the Patriot Act, whether it pertains to Americans or foreigners. “If we succeed the USA Freedom Act will be the first major iniciative since 9/11 to curtail surveillance”, he told MEPs.

"Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties & national security on both sides of the Atlantic”, said the US Congressman addressing the MEPs.

Sensenbrenner was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the USA was attacked on 9-11. “Congress needed new tools and broader authorities to combat those who meant to harm us, but we never intended to allow the national security agency to peer indiscriminately into the live of innocent people all over the world. In the past few years, the NSA has weakened misconstrued and ignored the civil liberty protections we drafted into the law”, he underlined.

 As far as the alleged surveillance of Chancellor Merkel, Sensenbrenner said:

“Even though these abuses were done outside Congressional authority, we should not underestimate the symbolic value of genuine form”.

Facebook, Microsoft and Google

As MEP Sophie in 't Veld pointed out, listening to the three companies’ representatives was “like listening Civil liberties associations”. In other words, all three of them claimed that their customers’ data are safe and the companies can ensure their protection. Also, “no direct access is ever given to their data”, they agreed.

According to the organisers, Yahoo and Amazon declined to take part in the hearing.

Dorothee Belz from Microsoft said: “We received 6000-7000 requests from US entities since December, 31st. 20% of the requests were not answered”. As she explained, “Microsoft does not give access to server; if law requires, it is the company that does the search and hands over data”.

“We had not heard of PRISM before the press broke it”, claimed Nicklas Lundblad from Google, referring to the mass electronic surveillance data program known to be introduced by the NSA in 2007. He also told MEPs, that Google “push back most of the requests it receives”.

Richard Allan from Facebook said that 8 500 user-data requests from June – December 2012 came from EU countries and they targeted approximately 10 000 accounts. “Facebook is able to respond expeditiously to many European requests, including cases where there is an imminent risk of death or bodily harm. For instance, Facebook has worked with law enforcement authorities in child abduction cases to assist in locating the missing child”.

Overall, interesting as it was to have the three representatives present in the European Parliament, it was cleverly pointed out by MEP Sophie in 't Veld, that they had carefully prepared legal statements and of course they would never say anything more. Moreover, it should be noted that only about ten of the 120 members of the Committee participated in debating, not giving a very encouraging sign of the importance of mass surveillance for the EU.