European Privacy and Human Rights


European Privacy and Human Rights Study

Privacy International, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Media and Communications Studies (CMCS), have together presented the study entitled “European Privacy and Human Rights (EPHR) 2010”. This was a study funded by the European Commission’s Special Programme “Fundamental Rights and Citizenship,” 2007-2013.

The Key Findings

EPHR findings show that Europe is the world’s leader in privacy rights. But with leadership like this, the future seems to be worrying.

The Directive on Data Protection has been implemented across EU member states and beyond, but inconsistencies remain. Surveillance harmonisation that was once threatened is now in disarray. Yet, there are so many loopholes and exemptions that it is increasingly challenging to get a full understanding of the privacy situations in European countries.

The cloak of “national security” enshrouds many practices, minimises authorisation safeguards and prevents oversight. The primary conclusion is that the situation seems to be mixed.

Positive findings seem to indicate that European democracies are in generally good health, with the majority of countries having constitutional protections. Surveillance policies have faced obstacles across Europe, including political challenges, policy implementation problems, and resistance from regulators, civil society, the general public, and industry.

It is also the case that European regulators are getting more and more complaints, may mean that this is a sign of increased awareness of privacy issues and awareness of the regulators’ duties.

It is interesting to note however, that many of the ambitious surveillance proposals have failed in implementation and the deployment of biometric passports and data retention is fragmented. Cutbacks have affected regulators’ abilities to do their jobs, e.g. Latvia, Romania. There are also failed oversight mechanisms, e.g. Sweden’s commissioner over covert surveillance powers resigned in protest.

Some negative findings include the inability to build safeguards into processes to gain access to information over new services, e.g. France, Germany, Switzerland seeking powers to conduct secret searches of computers, Ireland’s ambiguous powers for unwarranted interception of VoIP; Italy building “backdoors” into systems; Bulgaria’s “black boxes” at ISPs.

In France an attempt to ignore constitutional amendment proposals to include an explicit constitutional right to privacy was noted. In other countries illegal and warrantless surveillance still occurs.