May 06 2010

Two-faced Biden speech on “privacy” and surveillance

US Vice President Joe Biden gave a remarkable speech today at the European Parliament, devoting substantial time to professions of personal and institutional US commitment to “privacy” while focusing his policy agenda on lobbying the EP to approve warrantless, suspicious US government access to European financial (SWIFT/TFTP) and travel (PNR) data. If you don’t have time to watch it all, the discussion of privacy and surveillance starts at around 21:15.

Swedish libertarian blogger Hendrik Alexandersson’s comments about Biden’s tightrope act are, perhaps, indicative of the lack of persuasive power of such obviously hypocritical arguments for those genuinely committed to civil liberties.

Biden’s speech was a day late, following Europarl votes yesterday not to approve proposed SWIFT and PNR agreements with the DHS, but instead to set strict new condiitions any such agreements will have to meet.

Biden’s focus on “privacy” also indicates a lack of appreciation for what the EP resolution on PNR data actually says.  It’s not limited to privacy or data protection, but makes explicit that the fundamental rights at stake include the right to travel, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The new terms of reference for any PNR agreement that will be acceptable to the EP are the criteria established by the U.N. Human Rights Committee for evaluating whether measures that implicate freedom of movement are consistent with that treaty.  That right to freedom of movement, and those standards for it — entirely ignored by V.P. Biden and, to date, by the DHS, which has entirely ignored our formal complaint that their use of PNR data violates the ICCPR as well as the Privacy Act  — are what both US and EU negotiators should be studying closely as the starting point for new negotiations on PNR data.