Privacy Advisor

PRISM Revelations May Affect Global Privacy, Anti-Terror Policy

June 14, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

As we begin to see the backside of the initial reporting on the NSA’s PRISM activities and the gathering of phone data from Verizon and other carriers, more voices are sounding their opinions on how this will affect, and already has affected, global privacy policy.

According to a report in EU Observer, the European Commission has stated it will stand firm, and has in fact resisted U.S. government lobbying efforts, in crafting the data protection regulation. A spokesperson for Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the commission proposal makes it “absolutely clear that U.S. companies would have to abide by EU rules whenever they offer their goods and services to European citizens,” and U.S. data requests would have to go through the EU legal system.

However, Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in’t Veld believes the U.S. lobbying efforts to have been fairly successful, noting Article 42, which “would make it a condition for the disclosure of user data to authorities in third countries to have a legal foundation, such as a mutual legal assistance agreement and an authorisation by the competent data protection authority,” has been removed from an earlier draft.

This accusation that the commission has “watered down” its proposal at U.S. request is something that’s gaining traction in the EU, as evidenced by this report in PC World.

“Many parliamentarians were also angered by the United States weighing in with its opinion before a final vote had been taken,” the report notes, and are perhaps now emboldened to speak out following the public outcry surrounding the NSA reports.

United Nations (UN) representatives have not been shy in voicing their opinions, as well. The Economic Times notes that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem "Navi" Pillay has expressed concerns that surveillance tactics like those conducted in the U.S. could lead to more, rather than less, terrorism. "Concerns have been expressed over surveillance regimes adopted by some states without adequate safeguards to protect individuals' right to privacy," Pillay told a UN counterterrorism conference in Geneva. "If our goal in countering terrorism is to provide for the security of individuals and preserve the rule of law, such practices are...counterproductive.”

The same report notes that “Switzerland this week asked Washington for explanations about (NSA whistleblower Edward) Snowden's revelations, especially on an alleged CIA blackmail operation to spy on its banks while he was stationed in Geneva as a diplomatic attaché from 2007 to 2009.

Nor is Pillay the only one with fears the NSA revelations will lead to increased terrorist attacks, though U.S. Republican lawmakers have taken a slightly different tack on the opinion. The AP reports that Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) both left a briefing on June 13 saying the NSA revelations would make it more difficult to fight terrorist activities.

Rogers said there are "changes we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm and our allies harm," and the revelations might also "make it harder to track bad guys trying to harm U.S. citizens in the United States."

Chambliss echoed, "The bad guys are now changing their methods of operation…(Snowden’s) disclosures are ultimately going to lead to us being less safe in America because bad guys will be able to figure out a way around some of the methods we use, and it's likely to cost lives down the road."

A pair of Democratic lawmakers sees the matter differently.

"We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence," Sens. Mark Udall (D-CO and Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in a statement.

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: IAPP Members in the News
PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: This NSA PRISM Story Isn’t Funny … Except When It Is
EU Regulation Roundup: Move Toward Business-Friendly; May Be No Vote until December
Lane Powell LLC Launches Privacy and Data Security Practice