C Shannon

So a Canadian blog on Europe. I have to write on CETA this week, right? Historic agreement, which some in the Canadian media are calling a coup for Prime Minister Harper, clearly that’s the biggest thing in my world currently, right? Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know what I could really say about it that hasn’t been said a million times. I’m a Canadian, who is in love with Europe: of course I would be pro-CETA. That’s why I’m not going to talk about CETA. I’m going to talk about privacy.

Privacy could be linked to human rights, and seems to be popular right now. The EP and the ECJ recently had something to say on the topic. I started thinking about privacy and Europe after that, not as a human rights issue but as one of personal interest. Specifically, I started thinking about it because it’s one of those fields that I admire Europe for.

In my own country, I have no problem assuming that our government works hand in hand with the Americans. This isn’t a bad thing in most areas, but less desirable in other areas. The topic of NSA watchlists come to mind. It is a common joke amongst young people here to talk to the NSA as a third person in a conversation between two on the internet. Whether this sort of paranoia is justified or not it illustrates the difference between my own government and the ones under which I’ve lived for several years in Germany, Austria and Belgium.

In Germany, you’d hear people talk about the Überwachungsstaat, the surveillance state. The European Parliament torpedoed both SWIFT and ACTA (albeit ACTA was about copyright and not privacy), and the revelation that the USA had been spying on European citizens was none too popular. It all makes me ask myself what my government is doing for me? I value privacy, why is an invasion of it something we laugh about and not something we do something about?

I could make some guesses about Canadian culture and our trust of authority and government. We often say thing like “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide”, which I would think would be impossible if we could remember a time when the Stasi were a presence in our lives. Maybe it’s an Anglo-Saxon thing: after all, the British are famous for their CCTVs, aren’t they?

I didn’t have any insights this week: just perspective. This is one of the many reasons I love the European space. I find the European Parliament’s actions in this area and in a number of areas to be fascinating. They are very good at making it seem like they are standing up for the public and its interests. Whether this is simply a popularity grab or a genuine ideological standpoint or something in the middle is unknowable to me, but it goes a long way to making Europe look much more attractive as a common space. I think that’s a good thing, but as I said last week, it comes with responsibilities.

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  1. The European Parliament indeed, appears (and is) active (in certain cases); otherwise, I would strongly question its existence. Privacy and digital issues (cybersecurity -including cybercrimes-, digital rights, and digital economy) is one of these areas were the EP and the Commission are very active and where the people of Europe respond to the call of civic actions (remember Juin 2011 and the massive protest against the digital clauses of ACTA).

    However, I believe that there are major differences amongst Member States on this regard too. If there is no doubt that German joke less about privacy issues, I can assure you that Belgians have the same habit of including the NSA in their conversations. The UK keep it very quite for now, but a keen eye has probably already noticed the British are amongst the top five best spies in the world. After all, they have George Smiley and James Bond on board of GCHQ, Mi6 or also called the Circus. This is also, without talking about Eastern European States that, even tough they shared a similar experience as Germany during the cold war, didn’t appear as offended as Germans after the revelations of E. Snowden. I think it would very interesting to know more about their vieuws on the topic.

    Finally, for having followed this issue quite actively, I can tell you that many NGOs in the US are fighting against NSA’s practices. The Congress, also, is currently reviewing ways to improve and revise the functioning of the FISA Court (the secret court that gives the approval for any NSA surveillance action).

    To sum up, yes, Europe care about its privacy (and puts it under the spotlight because it is a European human right), but do really all Europeans care as much? And, are Europeans, really, the only ones worrying about this issue?

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