This website is an archive of the work of Marietje Schaake in the European Parliament between 2009 and 2019. Marietje can be reached at

Plenary debate on Human rights and technology in third countries (report)

On September 7th, during the European Parliament's plenary meeting, Marietje Schaake presented her report on ‘Human rights and technology: the impact of intrusion and surveillance systems on human rights in third countries’. Besides several MEPs, Commissioner Timmermans responded on behalf of the European Commission. Please find the video's below. Update: On September 8th the European Parliament adopted Schaake's report. Watch Marietje Schaake's speech and the response by Commissioner Timmermans Watch the full debate including responses by other Members of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake, rapporteur - Mr President, I would like to say to the shadow rapporteurs in particular that I enjoyed our discussions and cooperation on this report on human rights and technology, so thank you very much. In addition, I would like to thank the people from all over the world who have shared their input and suggestions. Many did so online and they have made the draft text that we voted on in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and will vote on tomorrow in this House, a lot stronger. I think crowdsourcing works. Technological developments have a major impact on human rights, both to advance them and to restrict them. They can advance access to information, freedom of expression and association, but the documentation and sharing of human rights abuses or uncovering of corruption have benefited too from mobile phones and access to the open Internet for more people. Disaster relief, aid efforts, election monitoring, they increasingly rely on technologies to help emancipate and empower people. However, technological systems can be and are also misused as tools for human rights violations through censorship, mass surveillance, tracking and tracing of individuals, unauthorised access to devices, jamming, interception and a lot more. So besides technological specifications, the context in which ICTs are used determines to a great extent whether these tools advance or violate human rights: what country, which user or buyer, and what legal safeguards or democratic oversight are in place. These contextual aspects should be assessed carefully in EU policies. More transparency and accountability in the market of the most intrusive and damaging technologies is key, both for security and for human rights. This is too often presented as a false dichotomy between security and freedom or actually justifying restrictions to peoples’ rights and freedoms in the name of advancing security when in fact they should reinforce each other and, at the very least, EU-made systems should not be sold in an unrestricted market. Without smart policies, proliferation of these systems is inevitable and in fact I am sure that we here in the EU institutions, the European External Action Service, struggle to protect our own people, our own diplomats and our own information from the very same systems that we are discussing here. Intelligence services, criminal networks, hackers with bad intentions, all can buy and use intrusive technologies that are made in Europe. The credibility of Europe’s foreign policy is undermined directly when an Italian company unjustly gets a licence to sell to Sudan or Russia, or when a French company sells digital keys to open any door, even the ones we may think are protected or locked by passwords, or much stronger measures. But, much worse, human rights defenders in Mexico, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Egypt, Turkey, Iran or Russia should be protected by EU policies and not harmed with the help of EU-made technologies. In concluding, EU policy should mainstream human rights in the way that technologies are designed and used and mainstream the role of technologies throughout all human rights policies, and this report presents many concrete ideas. One of the strong recommendations is that there should not be a ban on encryption technologies or requirements to hand over the keys. Instead, we, through our EU policy, should train and equip journalists, human rights defenders and others facing repression and violations with the knowledge and the tools to protect themselves and their communications. Europe has the opportunity and should have the ambition to be a global leader in ensuring technologies benefit human rights and this is only possible if we lead by example. Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the Commission - Madam President, I want to thank Ms Schaake for this excellent report. Reading it, you sometimes get a bit of flavour of Dave Erus and his writings about the downsides of modern technology and the ICT world. The report contains a number of very timely, pertinent and often challenging ideas and recommendations for action. The Commission appreciates the strong call to the EU to step up its efforts and strengthen the link between human rights, digital freedom, development, Internet governance, trade and security. This same message can also be found in the Digital Single Market Strategy recently adopted by the Commission. The EU is committed to promoting human rights in all areas of its external action. Nowadays, given the increasing importance of ICT in our daily lives and the expansion of Internet access and access to mobile telephony, the promotion of human rights online and offline and the linkage between new technologies and human rights are key to our endeavours towards promoting human rights and democracy worldwide. We therefore share the European Parliament’s view that ICTs are key in safeguarding and fostering human rights and fundamental freedoms. We also share the concern voiced in the report that certain fundamental rights, notably the right to freedom of expression and information, the right to privacy and the protection of personal data, may be violated as a result of unlawful or arbitrary surveillance, censorship, the unlawful interception of communications, or the collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale and not for legitimate purposes. This requires us all to unite in our efforts to protect fundamental rights. We need to promote the development of democratic oversight capabilities in order to monitor activities by intelligence and law enforcement services, lest these are used to suppress dissent and free speech. This is firmly anchored in the EU guidelines for freedom of expression online and offline, and we are highly committed to promoting these guidelines in our relations with third countries. That is also why the Commission is very supportive of, and welcomes, the appointment of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. It is very important to ensure that our response to terrorist attacks does not impact negatively on fundamental rights, notably freedom of expression and information and the right to privacy. The European Security Agenda adopted by the Commission this year has made clear, therefore, that the Commission will strictly test any security measures for compliance with fundamental rights, while ensuring their effectiveness. The EU is committed to assisting human rights defenders, civil society activists, and independent journalists to use ICTs to fight for freedom. The EU is also active in defending media freedom and pluralism, and has launched two new independent projects within the framework of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, with the support of this Parliament. The projects will address media freedom violations in the EU and neighbouring countries and promote action to support threatened journalists, complemented by digital training. The European Union has also adopted sanctions to prevent authoritarian regimes using technologies to crack down on human rights defenders, for example in the case of Syria. In addition to country-specific sanctions, the EU is reviewing its export controls to prevent exports of sensitive technologies that could be misused in violation of human rights. In December 2014 we introduced new controls on exports of intrusion software and of internet monitoring technologies, and we are further exploring options to extend export controls to rapidly evolving cyber-surveillance technologies that might be used for Internet monitoring and/or telecommunication surveillance in violation of human rights. As Ms Schaake writes in the report, there is indeed a need to mainstream the impact of technologies on the improvement of human rights in all the EU’s external action. The Commission and the External Action Service are working together towards this goal. ICTs have helped to promote freedom on a global scale, and preserving the benefits of freedom is a shared responsibility for all of us – the private sector, civil society, governments, international organisations and individuals. The European Union stands, therefore, ready to reiterate its commitment to promote unhindered, uncensored and non-discriminatory access to ICTs.