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European Report Says Mass Surveillance Threat To Human Rights

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Europe’s top rights body, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has expressed concern regarding the mass surveillance practices of the American and British intelligence agencies. In a 32 page report created by Dutch Member of Parliament Pieter Omtzigt, the body says that mass surveillance not only violates European privacy laws and is a great threat to human rights of target subjects, it is also a very ineffective way of fighting terrorism. The report also questioned the need of using technologically advanced systems used by NSA and GCHQ to collect and analyze data and termed the scale of NSA’s surveillance as stunning.

In the report, PACE also highlighted the issue of internet security and questioned the practice of introducing security vulnerabilities and backdoors into computer standards and systems by the security agencies. The body warned that such practices could lead to disastrous consequences since once a vulnerability has been introduced, it could also be exploited by terrorists or criminals to wreak havoc on critical systems. The use of such practices was first revealed by the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden who also made an appearance before the body last year and disclosed how the U.S. government was spying on human right activists and non-government organizations.

The report also highlights how the British laws that grant sweeping surveillance powers to the agency GCHQ are in direct contradiction with European convention on human rights. The body says that GCHQ’s surveillance might be violating article 10 (right to freedom of expression), article 8 (right to privacy) as well as article 6 (right to fair trial) of the convention. Calling these rights as cornerstone of democracy, the report also suggests that their infringement without any judicial oversight could jeopardize the rule of the law. PACE also mentions that there is credible evidence that the intelligence agencies are collecting data on a massive scale and are even targeting people that are not suspected of any crime.

Once portion of the report also says that PACE is deeply worried about the use of secret laws and their different interpretations that have enabled surveillance on an industrial scale. The body denounced such laws as anti-democratic and expressed concern that politicians are not able to take correct decisions due to highly technical nature of the mass surveillance operations.

Although the report is critical of mass surveillance, it recommends targeted surveillance of potential suspects. Noting that mass surveillance has not been found to be effective against prevention of terror attacks, the body said that government agencies have better chance of success if they target specific individuals instead of stretching their resources to monitor millions of people. The report also called for the creation of a new legal framework to rebuild trust between trans-Atlantic nations and protect whistleblowers like Edward Snowden from prosecution.

Although the recommendations made by the body are not legally binding on the 47 member states, it nevertheless provides a clear guideline on how to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. The next step for the member states is to debate the issues highlighted in the report and forward their suggestions to European Court of Human Rights.

March 30, 2015

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