European fundamental rights pretensions and sour reality

Europe has great pretensions when it comes to fundamental rights, but unfortunately the reality is different. This can be seen in the European approach (especially Commission and Council) to the USA’s abusive practices in the area of Citizenship-Based Taxation and FATCA (introduction, articles).

Official bodies regularly speak out about European negligence. Previously I wrote about EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)’s major criticism [1].

Read also EDRi’s article UN Special Rapporteurs challenge EU’s counter-terrorism plans [2], e.g.:

Their statement does not judge the EU’s counter-terrorism plans kindly. While the Special Rapporteurs note that the scope of the new measures are “extensive in scope”, they point out the lack of crucial safeguards to guarantee human rights compliance in practice and the lack of monitoring and evaluation measures to understand and minimise the negative impacts on rights and freedoms.

Through their communication, the Special Rapporteurs demonstrate how several existing and foreseen EU security measures fail to meet the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, enshrined in European and international laws (such as the Regulation on preventing the dissemination of Terrorism Content Online and the processing by Europol of sensitive data for profiling purposes). The fatal flaw lies in the use of broad and undefined terms to justify extensive interferences in human rights.

The Special Rapporteurs rightly question the specificity and meaning of “European values” and “European way of life”, both terms used as yardsticks for censoring online content and profiling travelers and migrants. For example, the statement criticises how Europol would be allowed to exchange personal data, including content hashes, IP addresses and URLs with private parties in order to detect and prevent the dissemination of “terrorist” and “extremist” material or “symbols” online and the creation of “terrorist accounts” on social media. Because the definitions of these terms are either absent or unclear and vague, the risk of overly censoring legitimate content is quite high. The statement emphasises that the risks of abusive and incorrect removals will become even greater with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools designed to automatically identify “terrorist content”. As a consequence and since social media facilitates the organisation of gatherings and collaboration, this censorship tools will likely curb the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

The problematic lack of concrete protective measures is also raised in the framework of Europol’s “large scale and indiscriminate collection and retention of data”, increased data sharing with private parties and “collection of broad categories of data such as racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs or trade union membership”. The Special Rapporteurs note that these provisions in Europol’s reform would disproportionately impact the human rights of specific groups of people, and therefore contravene the right to non-discrimination. At the same time there are no specific safeguards to ensure that “they are not used to curb the rights of political opposition parties, trade unions and human rights defenders”.

Will the European Democracy, Rule of law and Fundamental rights Monitoring Group (DRFMG) act more serious tomorrow?

[1] Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA): ‘Counter terrorism but respect fundamental rights’, 27 November 2021.
[2] UN Special Rapporteurs challenge EU’s counter-terrorism plans, EDRi 1 December 2021.

Over Ellen Timmer

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