Saying No to Mass Surveillance of European Citizens

Politics - November 12, 2023

It was a real setback for the EU Commission and the Swedish EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson when the European Parliament dealt with “Chat Control 2.0”, the controversial proposal to introduce mass surveillance of all citizens on the Internet. The formal reason is to combat child pornography.

In early November, all party groups in the European Parliament rejected the mass surveillance proposal put forward by the Commission. It was a significant setback for the Commission. Instead, a heavily reworked version was adopted where almost everything that was controversial was removed.

What has been deleted is the mass scanning of encrypted chats, so-called end-to-end encryption services, which had meant that the Internet providers had been forced to install spyware on everyone’s computer and phone.

Balance between protection and rights

The EU-Parliament has also said no to mandatory age checks for messaging apps and no to banning children under 16 from using mainstream apps.

The chief negotiator in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), the Spanish Member of parliament Javier Zarzalejos (EPP), says there will now be a “positive balance between the protection of children online and respect for fundamental rights”.

According to Parliament’s version, specific suspicion should be required to monitor individuals and groups. It is something that should perhaps be a given in a society governed by rule of law, but apparently not for the EU Commission big brothers and big sisters.

The danger is not over

However, it cannot be claimed that the danger is over. The European Union’s decision-making processes are tricky, wobbly and can take a long time. The Commission stands by its proposal. Next in turn to take a stand is the Council of Ministers, i.e. the government representatives of the EU countries.

Among the governments of the member states, the division is great. Many countries are enthusiastic, but there are those who resist. Whether there are enough governments for a blocking majority against the proposal remains to be seen.

Germany says no, and the parliaments of Austria, Finland and the Netherlands have said their governments must say no. The current Polish government says no, so the question is how a new liberal government will react. Estonia and the Czech Republic may also join the no side.

If they all say no, they achieve a blocking majority in the European Council. In order to really take mass surveillance off the table, it would be an advantage if more member states join the critics so that the Commission receives the same clear disapproval as from the European Parliament.

Following the position of the Council of Ministers, as usual, new negotiations between the three decision-making institutions, the Council, the Parliament and the Commission, follow.

Parliament can push their government ahead

In Sweden, the centre-right government (EPP/RE) has not been able to say no. Its position is only slightly better than the proposal presented by the Commission. It is time for all governments to take the issue seriously. In Sweden, the Riksdag (parliament) and its EU Committee can instruct the government on how it is expected to act during the Council of Ministers meeting when the issue comes up.

The actions of the Swedish government are surprising considering that their own party groups in the European Parliament have rejected the Commission’s proposal. Here, the Swedish government falls into the usual behavior that has existed ever since Sweden became a member of the EU in 1995 – they don’t want to argue, don’t cause trouble.

Now they must toughen up and dare to stand up for the values of their own country. The Commission’s line clearly violates civil liberties and rights.

For once, the European Parliament has acted wisely. Then it would be madness if governments did not join the defense of freedoms and resistance to mass surveillance.