EU hashes terrorist data deal

Human rights and personal privacy sacrificed once more in the name of collective government security

What a hash Europe has made of its agreement to give US federal police access to its personal banking data.

The European Parliament made a vocal attempt at turning the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, which involves giving mountains of personal banking data to US investigators, into something of which Europe could be proud. But it never had a hope.

National governments wanted a deal done on Washington's terms -- no matter that it drove a spike through Europe's much-besieged data protection principles. The only way Europe could have done this data deal with any integrity would have been to reject it outright.

The TFTP agreement, approved by the parliament last Thursday, allows US agents to subpoena a private European company for personal data without going through a judicial authority. There is some disagreement in Europe over whether police data search warrants should require a court order. While in many cases they do, the TFTP deal establishes a distinctly un-European precedent -- allowing even a non-European police agency unwarranted access to personal data.

US requests for TFTP data are passed to Europol, a police agency with which the US also shares intelligence gleaned from the requests. And Europol can ask the US to make a request for TFTP data to help with its own investigations. The US returns such requests to Europol for approval.

The European Commission and European Parliament praised the deal for the protection it provided people whose banking data is accessed. But its protections are a sop. Europe's data protection commissioners opposed the deal, as did the European Data Protection Supervisor, because EU law wouldn't permit it. The commission ensured the deal's legal integrity by removing clauses that held it accountable to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It breached the principles of necessity and proportionality by allowing US agents to bulk-copy loads of private banking data in their hunt for terrorist financiers. In an age when technology provides a simple means for the mass collection and processing of personal data, these principles are increasingly disregarded.

Retrospectively short-sighted

The same is becoming true of police warrants more broadly. A briefing paper published this month by JUSTICE, the human rights law group, noted how a proposed European Investigation Order covering police requests for data, intercepts, search warrants and so on omitted to require such orders be necessary and proportionate.

Like the TFTP agreement, the European Investigation Order (EIO) seeks to give police agencies authority to approve one another's requests for evidence. Jodie Blackstock, author of the JUSTICE brief, said European human rights law requires that all such requests be granted by a judicial authority.

Like the TFTP agreement, the proposed EIO did not provide an adequate means of redress for people wrongly fingered by the police using these lax rules of evidence-gathering, did not require reasonable grounds of suspicion for a warrant to be issued, and provided only weak grounds for refusing a request. And the evidence for dropping these precautions was itself lacking.

Oversight of the latest TFTP agreement is retrospective and severely limited. An example is its pledge that the TFTP, but not data derived from it, "does not and shall not involve data mining or any other type of algorithmic or automated profiling or computer filtering". It is peppered with disingenuous morsels of this kind, presented instead of direct accountability to human rights law.

All in all, the precedent set by the TFTP is one that is gradually making its way into European and international law, which is that police data-sharing and processing should be enhanced with all the powers computers offer, that operational convenience overrides the principles of necessity and proportionality, and that judicial oversight must similarly not be allowed to create a bottleneck: considered, independent restraint has no place in the information age. All we can expect is share now, ask later.

As JUSTICE says in relation to the EIO, it continues a trend for human rights to be dropped for the sake of the operational efficiency of international policing joint ventures, but this overlooks that the increased ease of such co-operation makes human rights more important than ever.

Mark Ballard is a freelance journalist who writes about computer policy, crime, security, law and systems.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.