30 June 2008

write me a letter

Some mornings you wake up and read something that makes you so angry the rest of your day is paralysed until you do something about it. I read this morning of a proposal by the French to voluntarily share data on EU citizens with the US. This data would include, but not be limited to, bank details, credit card histories, travel itineraries and possibly even the private internet browsing, chat and email details the EU is currently requiring European ISPs to log. They are planning to use their six-month Presidency of the EU that starts on July 1st to push an EU wide Treaty though.

Rather than just saddle up my high horse and blog about it, I chose to do the next most ineffectual thing and wrote to Eamon Ryan, Green TD and current Minister for Communications, under whose remit this legislation will fall, and John Gormley, Minister for the Environment, Green party leader and my local TD.

As a happily paid up party member with some not-inconsiderable time on my hands, I felt it was the least I could do.

Concerns over proposed EU data sharing with the US

Ministers,

It is with some alarm that I read in today's Guardian newspaper of President Sarkozy's desire to use France's Presidency of the EU to push for "a comprehensive transatlantic pact clearing the way for the unprecedented supply of private data on European citizens to the American authorities", data that would include credit card and banking histories, travel itineraries and possibly even internet browsing records.

The Right to Privacy is one of the fundamental tenets of most egalitarian societies in Europe, and successive Irish Governments have acknowledged this by enacting both the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts to protect the privacy of their citizens in the digital age. This tenet is one that, in Opposition, the Green Party has taken a clear and vocal stand in support of.

In response to the introduction of legislation to transfer passenger data to the US on October 11, 2006, then Deputy Ryan spoke at length, and with some force, on why the Green Party would oppose the motion:
"Our party, like our sister parties in the European Union, has significant and real concerns regarding the nature of this agreement and a breach of the principle on the right to privacy which exists within the Union...Effectively, this agreement will mean handing over data to a sovereign foreign government and acceding that it has the right to pass on that information to other agencies within that state where the same data control measures may not apply."
Deputy Cuffe added presciently:
"We should say it may not be appropriate to give the United States the huge amount of data it seeks. I am concerned that we will have to give details of people's credit card records to the US authorities if they wish to travel there. I worry about where this ends - criminal records, credit card details, next we will have to give information on penalty points."
It is clear that in an increasingly digital age European citizens are concerned over the amount of data that any one group or authority has concerning them, what is done with that data, and who it is shared it with. At times a distinction has been made between the use of information by a Government in the course of its duties to protect its citizens, and the use of data by private companies. Given the US Administration's preference for outsourcing government work to the private sector, there is little doubt that data passed to the US under President Sarkozy's proposed Treaty would end up in the hands of private and for-profit companies. These private companies, unlike US Government agencies, are not subject to US Freedom of Information requests, and thus there is no accountability or recourse for any individual who feels that this data has been misused.

With the recent rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the citizens of Ireland, it is clear that the nation has concerns over the way in which the EU is governed, and the role that Ireland plays within Europe. For the country to reconsider its position on Lisbon, it is necessary for the Government to address many of these concerns. It would be difficult to allay these concerns if simultaneously the Government is willingly participating in the transfer of data on its citizens to private companies in a non-EU nation at the behest of the EU, with little or no recourse for those citizens whose data is misused.

Given the public position on the transfer of data on Irish citizens to the US adopted by Green TDs in the past, I would hope that in Government the Green Party would continue to protect the rights of all Irish citizens, and work with the other partners in Government to reject any proposed adoption by Ireland and the EU of President Sarkozy's data-sharing Treaty.

Yours sincerely,

(The above text has been edited slightly from the original email to remove personally identifying details)

Links
'New pact would give EU citizens' data to US', Ian Traynor, The Guardian
'Transfer of Passenger Data to US Authorities' Dail debate transcripts from the Green Party website
'Who runs the CIA? Outsiders for hire' R.J. Hillhouse, Washington Post
'Outsourcing National Intelligence', R.J. Hillhouse, CBSnews.com

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