FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

EU Court Declares NSA Surveillance Illegal

As expected, the European Union court has thrown out an agreement, forged in 2000, that allows virtually uninhibited data sharing and transfer between the United States and EU countries and is the legal basis for National Security Agency’s on-line surveillance and data capture programs.

The Court’s decision is binding on all EU members and violation of its decisions could end in punitive measures including fines and trade restrictions.

The decision validates an opinion issued by the EU Court’s Advocate General last month that the Safe Harbor Framework — a group of trade regulations approved by the EU in 2000 — violates the laws of various EU member countries and the EU’s 2009 Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Essentially, Safe Harbor allows the United States to retrieve huge amounts of data from servers and other storage devices in a European country without having to worry about the country’s privacy laws, which are frequently stricter than those in the United States and are now uniformly compliant with the 2009 Charter. In fact, since these are American officials operating abroad, they don’t have to worry about U.S. privacy laws either because these don’t apply to activities outside the U.S.

Since much of the data from users of services like Google (including Gmail), Apple and Facebook (as well as 4500 other companies and agencies) is stored in Europe, which is more cost-effective than in the U.S., the NSA was capturing most data without any constraint. That, now, has ended.

The opinion issued by Advocate General Yves Bot last month was a response to a case brought by Austrian technologist Maximillian Schrems. Schrems used information made public by whistle-blower Edward Snowden to demonstrate that the NSA’s PRISM program, the agency’s main data collection program, was effectively illegal in much of Europe and Safe Harbor was actually facilitating a crime.

After being turned down by Ireland’s courts — the European division of Facebook, the lawsuit’s initial target, is based in Ireland — Schrems took his case to the EU courts which almost immediately saw a major contradiction in the Safe Harbor Framework.

The problem is, in part, one of intent. Safe Harbor was actually a trade framework that allows companies and government trade sections to move information back and forth with impugnity: a freedom all the participating governments thought necessary to facilitate business in an increasingly digital economy.

But the NSA had other plans. Seeing the potential of the Safe Harbor system, and knowing how important digital data would become to surveillance, the NSA almost immediately began developing ways to exploit Safe Harbor. Since U.S. Internet users’ data was increasingly being stored in Europe, surveillance would be enhanced by using Safe Harbor’s unencumbered data transfer regulations to pull data from those European storage devices. There was no need for a court order and they didn’t have to inform the owner of the data. The PRISM program is dedicated almost exclusively to that kind of data capture.

The Court has now declared such capture illegal. Not to say that PRISM and other data capture programs won’t continue — the NSA will certainly not let this decision stop its spying. But spy programs using Safe Harbor are now illegal.

“It’s regulatory roulette,” Trevor Hughes, president and chief executive of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, told the Washington Post. “What we see is that a major mechanism for allowing those data transfers to occur has now gone away. Those data transfers are not going to stop. However, many companies today are now likely out of compliance with the expectations of European law, which opens them to regulatory enforcement in Europe and elsewhere.”

The question really is what will the opposition movements of the U.S. and Europe do about this because, while the court decision doesn’t stop surveillance, it now clearly makes it illegal and vulnerable to legal challenge.

More articles by:

Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be Happening!

June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Are Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail