EU wrestles with privacy v security

Snowden live video hook-up with MPs in Strasbourg, 8 Apr 14 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Edward Snowden - wanted by US prosecutors - spoke to European MPs via video link from Moscow

We live in strange times when the most negative reaction to the end of a piece of EU legislation comes from British officials.

But that's what happened today, when the European Court of Justice struck down the Data Retention Directive - a rule that required telecoms companies to store the communications data of EU citizens for up to two years.

The directive was introduced in 2006, after the London and Madrid bombings, to help fight organised crime and terrorism.

But the ECJ said it interfered in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental right to privacy and the protection of personal data.

There was obvious concern in London - a government spokesman said the legislation played a crucial role in ensuring national security.

"We cannot be in a position," a British spokesman said, "where companies are unable to retain this data".

Elsewhere reaction was rather different. Many MEPs put out statements welcoming the ruling as a victory for privacy campaigners. And in Germany, where privacy is an issue of great political sensitivity, the directive has never been implemented.

The German government says it will now draw up a new law that reflects the public mood.

All this happened on a day when the fugitive American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden was addressing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by video link.

Mr Snowden told the hearing that "dragnet mass surveillance is ineffective at preventing terrorism".

It is an argument that will run and run - how to find the right balance between security and personal freedoms.

In some countries concerns surrounding privacy will be an election issue - many current MEPs certainly feel strongly about it, and believe it is an issue where the European Parliament can play a defining role in defending the public interest.