Council of Europe calls for greater oversight on intelligence community's surveillance powers

The Council of Europe insisted on Monday (7 September) that there is an urgent need to provide “effective oversight” on the surveillance activities of international intelligence agencies and the threats to privacy that emerge as a result In a statement referring to the outcome of the recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision to invalidate EU personal data transfers to the US under the Privacy Shield agreement, the international rights organisation stated that the Court’s decision crystallised the importance of charting a binding international agreement for the protection of privacy and personal data. “This decision has implications beyond EU-US data transfers and raises broader questions relating to international data transfers, providing yet another opportunity to strengthen the universal data protection framework and to address the need for a global legal instrument on intelligence services,” read a joint statement from the Council of Europe’s Jean-Philippe Walter and Alessandra Pierucci.

An ECJ ruling on 16 July found that the US surveillance regime does not allow for a sufficient degree of protection for European data, putting it at a risk that would violate rights afforded to citizens under the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR). Powers afforded under section 702 of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) permits the National Security Agency to collect foreign intelligence belonging to non-Americans located outside the US, potentially putting the data of EU citizens at risk when sent to the US. In such a climate, the CoE has taken the opportunity to rally the benefits of its own instrument: the ‘Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data’ otherwise referred to as Convention 108.

It has recently been modernised with the means to become “the international standard on privacy and data protection.” The CoE hopes it can become a “viable tool to facilitate international data transfers,” while offering sufficient personal data protection, and in the statement also cites recent comments from UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy Professor Joseph A. Cannataci, for all UN members to accede to the convention.

Meanwhile, the Privacy Shield agreement’s nixing, negotiations between EU and US counterparts have been taking place in a bid to chart a new agreement. However, European Commission’s justice chief Didier Reynders poured cold water on the chances of a new agreement emerging anytime soon, telling MEPs last week that there would be no “quick fix” on a new accord. The Belgian cited the US presidential elections and the inherently “political” nature of the ongoing talks as reasons why a conclusion to any new pact is unlikely in the short term.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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