By Ezra Steinhardt and Henriette Tielemans

On March 12, 2014, the European Parliament voted 544 to 78, with 60 abstentions, to endorse a report prepared by MEP Claude Moraes (S&P, UK) (the Report), and to pass a resolution summarising Mr. Moraes’ findings (the Resolution).  The Report and Resolution conclude a six-month investigation by the influential Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs into allegations of mass surveillance by the United States National Security Agency and other national intelligence agencies, and make a number of recommendations designed to pressure the United States into ceasing its alleged mass surveillance activities.  The recommendations are not binding, but will change the tone of the debate in Europe on data protection and cross-border trade issues.

In particular, unless the U.S. responds to satisfy the Parliament’s concerns, the Resolution declares that the European Parliament’s consent to the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will be “endangered”, and recommends that data transfers from the European Union to the United States via the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework and other agreements be “immediately suspended.”   The Resolution also declares Parliament’s support for new home-grown European cloud providers.  

Companies using the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor should not cease transfering data as normal just yet, however.  Under the current framework, the Parliament does not have the power to order the cessation of data transfers alone, and it is thought that the other two key European Union institutions, the European Commission and Council, do not share Parliament’s perspective, so the legal framework is unlikely to be altered yet.  Nevertheless, the Report and Resolution will change the atmosphere of the debate about data protection in Brussels, will likely increase pressure for deeper full-scale reform of Europe’s data protection laws (a process that is ongoing), and could also mean that TTIP can no longer include provisions on data transfers.