Privacy over safety?

Europe is quickly reassessing its approach to gathering and sharing intelligence a week after terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

The violence appears to have tilted the balance toward security and away from privacy, reviving legislation that would expand Europe’s surveillance capabilities.

“My sense on the ground is that people are horrified and almost overnight, the public sense is much more, ‘Those bastards, whatever needs to be done to stop that has to be done,’” said Emily Taylor, an associate fellow at the London think tank Chatham House. “That’s a moment where the hawkish approach can carry the day.”

The shift mirrors a similar hardening of attitudes in the United States, where lawmakers have rushed to support stricter security controls and greater access to civilian data in response to the attacks.

Privacy is considered a fundamental right under the EU Charter, and public revulsion in Europe with U.S. surveillance programs unveiled by Edward Snowden shifted sentiment solidly in favor of personal liberties.

There was anger at U.S. companies from both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly in Europe, when it emerged that the private sector had cooperated with the government.

“My sense on the ground is that people are horrified and almost overnight, the public sense is much more, ‘Those bastards, whatever needs to be done to stop that has to be done,’” said Emily Taylor, an associate fellow at the London think tank Chatham House. “That’s a moment where the hawkish approach can carry the day.”

The shift mirrors a similar hardening of attitudes in the United States, where lawmakers have rushed to support stricter security controls and greater access to civilian data in response to the attacks.

Privacy is considered a fundamental right under the EU Charter, and public revulsion in Europe with U.S. surveillance programs unveiled by Edward Snowden shifted sentiment solidly in favor of personal liberties.

There was anger at U.S. companies from both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly in Europe, when it emerged that the private sector had cooperated with the government.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed a “Snooper’s Charter” by critics, would require Internet service providers to maintain records of users’ browsing activity for 12 months.

Civil liberties advocates have pushed back against the various pieces of legislation expanding the amount of data on EU citizens that governments are able to collect, arguing that it undermines important privacy rights without improving security in a meaningful way.

“Paris has some of the most intrusive monitoring and yet those attacks were not foiled, they weren’t predicted and they weren’t stopped. So, it doesn’t work,” said Taylor.

The attacks have also rekindled a debate over encryption technology that has echoes of a bitter fight already convulsing the United States.

In the EU as in the U.S., law enforcement and intelligence officials argue that unbreakable cryptography shields terrorists from critical surveillance, while technologists insist that weakening encryption introduces dire security risks and impinges on privacy rights.