Who wants Snowden free? And who says security is more important than privacy? (See how MEPs voted)

The vote on a document adopted in the European Parliament on 29 October gives us the opportunity to see clearly who thinks what with regard to the Snowden case, beyond ambiguous statements of various politicians.

The battlefield is divided between those who are of the opinion that privacy is more important than security, and those who think the opposite, that security prevails over privacy.

Before analyzing the vote in the European Parliament, one cautionary note has to be made: the vote in the EP shows what are the ‘standard’ positions of the political forces, i.e. the positions of politicians who do not have the responsibility of governing themselves and can therefore express an opinion free from the constraints of the governing act. When in power, however, politicians may end up behaving differently, under the pressure of various societal (internal and international) challenges.

Having said that, in the European Parliament we have, on the one hand, the left-wing politicians, who generally believe that privacy is more important and that security can be achieved without reducing individual rights, such as the right of privacy. Consequently, they believe that intelligence agencies should only be allowed to collect a smaller amount of data about the citizens. In this camp we find the Greens, the Communists, most of the Socialists and most of the Liberals. At this point, most of the readers coming from the former Communist block are probably surprised, as they remember the very tight surveillance exerted by the state police under Communist rule during the Cold War era. Again, the vote in the EP shows the positions of politicians who are not in power, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall.

On the other hand, politicians who believe that “one cannot have liberty without security” and who therefore prioritise security over privacy can be found mainly in the center-right camp, i.e. among the People’s Party and the Conservatives and Reformists.

In this particular occasion, the EP voted on whether Edward Snowden should be allowed to be free or not. Here is the exact text the Members of the European Parliament voted on:

“[EP] calls on the EU Member States to drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistleblower and international human rights defender;”


This statement was adopted with a margin of only 4 votes: 285 votes in favour to 281 against, the left (pro-privacy camp) winning the battle. The breakdown of votes shows a clear ideological (trans-national) divide, MEPs voting along the left-right dimension, regardless of their nationality:

Snowden free vote

Click here to see how each EU Parliamentarian voted on this statement (free log-in is required).