A New Era of Mass Surveillance is Emerging Across Europe
The world was a different place when, in October 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) struck down the “Safe Harbour” data-sharing agreement that allowed the transfer of European citizens’ data to the US. The Court’s decision concluded that the indiscriminate nature of the surveillance programs carried out by U.S. intelligence agencies, exposed two years earlier by NSA-contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, had made it impossible to ensure that the personal data of E.U. citizens would be adequately protected when shared with American companies. The ruling thus served to further solidify the long-standing conventional wisdom that Continental Europe is better at protecting privacy than America.
However, Europe’s ability to continue to take this moral high ground is rapidly declining. In recent months, and in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks across Europe, Germany, France and the United Kingdom — Europe’s biggest superpowers — have passed laws granting their surveillance agencies virtually unfettered power to conduct bulk interception of communications across Europe and beyond, with limited to no effective oversight or procedural safeguards from abuse.
The same political leaders and legislators that once rebuked the NSA on the ethics of its mass surveillance practices, seem to now be taking a page out of the NSA’s playbook. This post surveys these three national legal frameworks, highlighting their troubling similarities, with the aim of showing how legislators from these countries are treading a dangerous line of surveillance expansion and overreach, paving the way for more European countries to follow in their footsteps. Indeed, European countries are increasingly chiming in to an ever-growing chorus of supporters for wholesale global surveillance in the name of perceived security. This rhetoric finds especially fertile ground in modern-day Europe, which has been engulfed by populist messaging surrounding the refugee crisis, immigration and heightened security threats. However, rushed and vague mass surveillance laws, while they might increase public approval ratings in the short term, are not a true panacea to the fundamental flaws in European intelligence cooperation that were exposed by the recent attacks.