Professor Martin Scheinin, the Coordinator of the FP7-Research Project SURVEILLE, testifies before the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee inquiry on mass surveillance
Today SURVEILLE’s Coordinator, Professor Martin Scheinin of the EUI, provided testimony to the LIBE Committee with regard to mass surveillance and addressed the issues that concern such practices with respect to European citizens’ fundamental rights.
Live video feed:
The PDF documents below contain:
1. Professor Martin Scheinin’s main statement for the inquiry
2. Supporting documents relating to the statement
On the 24th of September SURVEILLE’s First Annual Forum for decision makers took Place in Brussels, gathering a crowd of representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, law enforcement agencies, local authorities, academics, and other interested parties.
Professor Martin Scheinin of the EUI introduced the project and its goals during the first panel. In commenting upon his presentation, member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake stressed the need for more research on how to identify mass surveillance tools as opposed to tools that can be only used for targeted surveillance. Schaake stressed the need for a global perspective as well, as many EU or US made technologies subsequently end up being (ab)used by other governments in third countries.
Dr. Francesca Galli and Céline Cocq presented one of SURVEILLE’s first draft deliverables, entitled ‘The use of surveillance technologies in the prevention and investigation of serious offences.” They received comments from Professor Simon Chesterman and Mr. Olivey Luyck, Head of Unit at the European Commission.
The policy debate of this forum focused on the realignment of law enforcement and intelligence services’ use of surveillance technologies for the prevention and investigation of serious crimes. One speaker asserted that the building up the criminal intelligence procedure is nowadays almost as important as search and seizure, but this isn’t reflected yet in criminal codes. Another speaker stated that it would be naïve to think that the use of every new technology could fit immediately in our traditional human rights paradigm. This includes a practice of trial and error, and eventually a balance is found.
In his closing keynote speech Gilles De Kerchove, the EU’s Anti-Terrorism Coordinator, stressed how the expansion of the definition of terrorism had a profound effect on the realignment of law enforcement and intelligence services. Both actors should be able to gather as much data as possible in his view, on the condition that data protection concerns, including privacy by design, are duly taken into account.
On June 8th the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published an opinion commenting on the Commission’s ‘Recommendation on preparations for the roll out of smart metering systems’ (issued March 9th), and on smart energy metering systems in general. Providing that the economic assessment to be carried out by Member States by the end of the summer gives favourable results the rollout for electricity and gas markets should take place by 2020. The EDPS warned that the introduction of smart meters is likely to raise serious threats to privacy in terms of the right to respect of family life and home, data protection concerns and the security of the citizen. It could constitute unwarranted surveillance if appropriate safeguards are not adopted.
As with traditional gas and electricity meters, the new devices could be installed in all households. What makes them ‘smart’ is the fact that they will enable the automatic transmission of consumption data from each household to energy suppliers. The reading, recording and transmission of such data would occur regularly – and could take place as frequently as every fifteen minutes. Smart meters will pave the way to a dynamic, ‘demand and response’ pricing system whereby energy consumption at peak times will be more expensive than consumption off-peak, or even change from customer to customer. As such, smart meters are a precondition for the modernisation of energy supply chains and deliver ‘smart grids’, which are supposed to provide considerable economic benefits.
The collection of such fine-grained information on consumption, though, could allow for the extraction of personal information, which could impinge upon the privacy of the members of EU households. The EDPS notes, for instance, that “by analysing detailed electricity usage data it may be possible in the future to infer or predict – also on a basis of deductions about the way in which electronic tools work – when members of a household are away on holiday or at work, when they sleep and awake, whether they watch television or use certain tools or devices, or entertain guests in their free time, how often they do their laundry, if someone uses a specific medical device or a baby monitor, whether a kidney problem has suddenly appeared or developed over time, if anyone suffers from insomnia, or indeed whether individuals sleep in the same room.” (p. 5).
Over time the collection of such massive information can amount to tracking and reveal very detailed behavioural patterns, or profiles, which could prove of benefit to both businesses (for targeted advertising and value-added services) and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, if data were not secured properly criminals could hack into the servers of the energy suppliers to obtain information on individuals, for instance, in order to commit burglary.
The EDPS commented extensively on the content of the recommendation. Whilst the recommendation incorporates new concepts such as privacy by design, privacy impact assessments (PIAs) and notification of data breaches, the EDPS highlighted a number of shortcomings such as the omission of basic principles of, and practical guidance on, data protection. He then suggested to introduce specific guidance and a clear methodology in the Template which will be prepared by the Commission for the voluntary impact assessments to be carried out by Member States, and proposed the assessment of additional legislative measures at the EU level to guarantee homogeneity of applicable laws and data protection standards.
In his latest discussion paper presented to the Council of the European Union Gilles de Kerchove, the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, has highlighted the advisory service of the SURVEILLE project and encouraged its use. In addressing the nexus of counter-terrorism with human rights, Mr. De Kerchove stated:
“On a practical level, I would encourage making use of the advisory service for security research in the EU financed SURVEILLE project which helps to develop technology consistent with ethical and human rights commitments and useful to end users (https://surveille.eui.eui.eu/index.php/advisory-service/).”
The SURVEILLE Advisory Service provides advice which is practical and constructive towards the aim of developing technology consistent with ethical and human rights commitments and useful to end users.
The Advisory Service is run by the University of Birmingham under the leadership of Professor Tom Sorell with the assistance of Dr John Guelke and Dr Katerina Hadjimatheou, all of whom are based at the university’s Centre for the Study of Global Ethics.
Special Eurobarometer on the EU’s home affairs
A special Eurobarometer survey was conducted in December 2011 at the request of the Directorate-General Home Affairs. In total 26,693 European citizens were interviewed for the survey. The final chapter of the study examines Europeans’ perceptions of public security. Three particularly relevant findings of this chapter are:
Europeans are more likely to feel safer in their local neighbourhood or town than in their country or the EU overall.
Opinion on whether the fight against terrorism and organised crime has restricted fundamental rights and freedoms in the EU is divided. Just under half (48%) of Europeans think fundamental rights and freedoms have been restricted in the EU because of the fight against terrorism and organised crime, with most saying “yes, to some extent” (38%), and only a small minority (10%) saying “yes, a great deal”. A slightly smaller proportion of Europeans (44%) do not think fundamental rights and freedoms have been restricted, with most saying “no, not really” (31%).
Most Europeans think EU institutions and Member State governments should work more closely together, and that the EU should increase financial support to Member States to tackle terrorism and organised crime. Opinion is more divided on whether the EU should provide financial and practical aid to non-EU countries and on whether Member States are capable of countering the threats on their own.