The US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes (PRISM) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) activities and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights


In light of the recent PRISM-related revelations, this briefing note analyzes the impact of US surveillance programmes on European citizens’ rights. The note explores the scope of surveillance that can be carried out under the US FISA Amendment Act 2008, and related practices of the US authorities which have very strong implications for EU data sovereignty and the protection of European citizens’ rights.

This Briefing note provides the LIBE Committee with background and contextual information on PRISM/FISA/NSA activities and US surveillance programmes, and their specific impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights, including privacy and data protection.
Prior to the PRISM scandal, European media underestimated this aspect, apparently oblivious to the fact that the surveillance activity was primarily directed at the rest-of-the- world, and was not targeted at US citizens. The note argues that the scope of surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) has very strong implications on EU data sovereignty and the protection of its citizens’ rights.
The first section provides a historical account of US surveillance programmes, showing that the US authorities have continuously disregarded the human right to privacy of non-Americans. The analysis of various surveillance programmes (Echelon, PRISM) and US national security legislation (FISA, PATRIOT and FAA) clearly indicates that surveillance activities by the US authorities are conducted without taking into account the rights of non- US citizens and residents. In particular, the scope of FAA creates a power of mass- surveillance specifically targeted at the data of non-US persons located outside the US, including data processed by ‘Cloud computing’, which eludes EU Data Protection regulation.
The second section gives an overview of the main legal gaps, loopholes and controversies of these programmes and their differing consequences for the rights of American and EU citizens. The section unravels the legal provisions governing US surveillance programmes and further uncertainties in their application, such as:
– serious limitations to the Fourth Amendment for US citizens
– specific powers over communications and personal data of “non-US persons”;
– absence of any cognizable privacy rights for “non-US persons” under FISA
The section also shows that the accelerating and already widespread use of Cloud computing further undermines data protection for EU citizens, and that a review of some of the existing and proposed mechanisms that have been put in place to protect EU citizens’ rights after data export, actually function as loopholes.
Finally, some strategic options for the European Parliament are developed, and related recommendations are suggested in order to improve future EU regulation and to provide effective safeguards for protection for EU citizens’ rights.

Read the full document (pdf)

Mr Caspar BOWDEN (Independent Privacy Researcher)

Introduction by Prof. Didier BIGO (King’s College London / Director of the Centre d’Etudes sur les Conflits, Liberté et Sécurité – CCLS, Paris, France).

Copy-Editing: Dr. Amandine SCHERRER (Centre d’Etudes sur les Conflits, Liberté et Sécurité – CCLS, Paris, France)

Bibliographical assistance : Wendy Grossman

22.09.2013, JD

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