(I always feel like)
(Somebody’s watching me)
And I have no privacy

Will the 1984 classic (not Orwell’s but Rockwell’s) “Somebody’s watching me” become the anthem for the EU data reform package?  If not Commissioner Reding may just want to make it so since it’s lyrics, in light of recent revelations, could not be more appropriate:

I don’t know anymore 
Are the neighbours watching me
 (Who’s watching) 
Well, is the mailman watching me
 (Tell me, who’s watching)
 And I don’t feel safe anymore
 Oh, what a mess
 I wonder who’s watching me now
 The IRS?

(I always feel like)
(Somebody’s watching me)
And I have no privacy

 The singer may now finally have the answer to his anguished questions – it’s neither the neighbours, the postman nor the government agency the IRS that are watching him –it’s the NSA.

So, in answer to his lament “I have no privacy” EU Perspectives answers: Rockwell, you’re right and neither it seems do any of us.

The right to privacy, enshrined in human rights legislation and recognised in every democratic legal system that upholds the rule of law, is being chipped away, bit by bit, by the NSA who have the potential to examine our every tweet, FB posting, Skype talk and family blog update.

If the evidence is to be believed – and it looks pretty convincing – (even Clapper confirmed the existence of PRISM), then the NSA has free access to some of the world’s most used servers.

Europeans are not American – we’re “foreigners” so are open target for the NSA. Germany appears to be the most snooped on of all the European countries under the Boundless Informant project. If you’re American you’re not being snooped on – or so they say – but probably even Americans can’t be too sure on that one.

We in Europe, thanks to The Guardian and Washington Post, now know what we all suspected anyway: the NSA has the ability to monitor each and everyone of us if it so pleases them. No need for a Court warrant. No need for “reasonable” suspicion. No need to zoom-in on convicted criminals. No need to take human right’s sensibilities into account.

For the NSA, just feeling a little bit suspicious is enough to go snooping….as is being a little bit curious….or feeling a little bit voyeuristic….or a little bit vengeful…. Once in, the NSA can just dive-on-in there and browse through all our personal data should  it so amuse them.

If it helps the NSA catch the bad guys who blow up innocent civilians – then this surely is a good thing? Given that 99.999% of us have nothing more useful to tweet about than “Winter is Coming” (in light of the horrible winter and lousy Spring European have been enduring this year) what’s the big deal? If the NSA really wants to see the weekly grocery bill then good-luck to the poor sod who has to sift through all this data etc.  99.999% have no sinister intent and nothing to hide so why worry?

The EU has no powers over national security so can not regulate on how personal data should be accessed by the security services to fight terrorism and criminality. That is a matter for national governments together with their Parliaments to sort out.

So what’s the EU Perspective on all of this?

The right to privacy and the right to data protection is enshrined in the EU Treaties and in Art 7 (Respect for private and family life) and Art 8 (Protection of Personal Data) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Further Art 16 of the TFEU requires the Council and the European Parliament to:

lay down the rules relating to the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data by Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, and by the Member States when carrying out activities which fall within the scope of Union law, and the rules relating to the free movement of such data. 

In 2012 the EU decided to overhaul the current regulatory framework that governs data protection.

As far as the Commission and the Parliament are concerned data protection and privacy is still very much on the agenda. As Commissioner Reding said, “a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury or constraint but a fundamental right.” The EU may not have the powers to reign in the security services but they do have the powers to regulate how commercial companies exploit our personal data on-line.

Indeed, on the very same day The Guardian revealed the existence of PRISM, the European Justices Ministers were discussing the data reform package, first proposed in 2012 and currently going through the legislative process, in Brussels.

Data is the new “oil” – how else could FB be worth billions given it doesn’t charge a penny to users? Think also of businesses such “Party Pieces” – the on-line order company owned by Kate Middleton’s parents, which has been selling its customers data (legitimately) for a nice sum of money.

The ways in which – not only the big commercial internet giants (the very same ones that appear to have granted access to the NSA of their servers) but also small on-line companies such as Party Pieces, use our personal data to their own ends, is of great interest to the EU.

It will be interesting to see, in light of PRISM, whether there will be a hardening of stances by the Member States, Commission and Parliament to prosecute privacy violations. What can be stated with certainty is that big on-line businesses such as FB, Google and Apple are taking an active interest in the EU’s reform of how personal data is to be regulated.

The national media may not be following the reform of EU personal data with as much vigour and interest as they are Prism – but business is; as are civil rights groups.

The reform package is attracting an unprecedented number of lobbyists to Brussels. During it’s first reading the European Parliament, following intensive and high-powered industrial lobbying, tabled a staggering 4000 amendments to the Commission’s proposal.

This will be one interesting debate to follow for anyone truly concerned about how our personal data is distributed on-line – and to what ends.

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