Sparring on security and civil liberties

The vice chairwoman of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee criticized what she sees as overreaching in post-9/11 laws enacted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Too often, American and European officials have sold data-gathering legislation to the public using the specter of terrorist attacks, only to later use the resulting information to police immigration and for other purposes, Sophie in't Veld, a Dutch liberal, said at a panel discussion in Washington on Wednesday.

The chief U.S. officials in charge of privacy and civil liberties at the Homeland Security and Justice departments defended post 9/11 laws and regulations, especially those passed under the Obama Administration, as a necessary compromise between civil liberties and security.

Those officials described American and European privacy statutes as largely similar and attributed differences between the two to minor and bureaucratic disputes about implementation.

DHS Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan described the differences as an American preference for enumerated privacy rights, codified by statutes, in contrast with a European preference for overarching natural rights that are more difficult to define in practice.

Veld specifically criticized a 2007 deal that obligates the EU to turn over passenger flight information to U.S. law enforcement officials. That deal was approved by the European Commission, the EU's executive, but Veld was at the forefront of a European parliament decision to delay voting the deal up or down because of concerns about how securely the data would be stored and what reparations would be paid to passengers that were mistakenly identified as terrorist suspects.

The majority of that information was already shared by the airlines without a specific government directive.

The panel discussion at the European Institute was titled "Strengthening Civil Liberties and Security."