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EU opinion on national security surveillance and the rights of citizens

23 May 2014

On 10 April 2014 the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (the Working Party) published Opinion 04/2014 on surveillance of electronic communications for intelligence and national security purposes.

The opinion of the Working Party follows the Edward Snowden revelations regarding mass surveillance of citizens communications by NSA and GCHQ and takes a robust stance against future covert surveillance activities.

The Working Party concludes that "secret, massive and indiscriminate surveillance programs are incompatible with our fundamental laws and cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or other important threats to national security, Restrictions to the fundamental rights of all citizens could only be accepted if the measure is strictly necessary and proportionate in a demographic society".

As a result of their investigations conclusion, the Working Party in its Opinion recommend several measures in order for the rule of law to be guaranteed and respected.

These measures include more transparency on how surveillance programs work and more oversights by the regulators of surveillance activities.

It is interesting to note that of the 28 Member States several of their data protection regulators do not have authority to oversee the activities of intelligence services when they are acting as data controllers.

The UK and Spain are included in those countries which lack such power.

The Working Party in its Opinion also calls for an international agreement in relation to the guarantee of adequate data protection safeguards and intends to set up an international conference to discuss global cooperation between intelligence agencies, the regulators and the people.

This article was written by Robert Bond.

For more information contact Robert on +44 (0)20 7427 6660 or robert.bond@crsblaw.com