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14 Nov, 2013 08:15

Britain rejects EU watchdog plan to probe data-gathering practices - report

Britain rejects EU watchdog plan to probe data-gathering practices - report

The UK has rejected a call from an EU watchdog to probe how security agencies intercept metadata. Documents divulged by Edward Snowden revealed the covert practices of British spy body GCHQ in what has been described as “breach of fundamental rights.”

UK newspaper the Guardian reported that Britain sought to “disassociate itself” from a Council of Europe draft resolution urging an investigation into data gathering techniques. The European watchdog is currently holding a conference in the Serbian capital of Belgrade entitled ‘Freedom of Expression and Democracy in the Digital Age’ which seeks to ensure intelligence gathering practices abide by the European Convention on Human Rights.

To this end the Council has produced a report entitled ‘Political Declaration and Resolutions’, outlining recommendations to safeguard against “abuse which may undermine or even destroy democracy.”

A clause (13(v)) in the report urges for an inquiry into the gathering of “vast amounts of electronic communications data on individuals by security agencies, the deliberate building of flaws and ‘backdoors’ in the security system of the internet of otherwise deliberately weakening encryption.”

The UK has moved to exempt itself from this particular part of the document, claiming it was “unable to agree to it.”

"The United Kingdom needs to place formally on record that while it has not blocked consensus on this text, the UK needs to disassociate itself from paragraph 13(v). The UK strongly supports the overall approach of the resolution including supporting a free and open internet that promotes freedom of expression,” said the declaration obtained by the Guardian.

The UK, however, accepted that data could be gathered by security agencies for “a legitimate aim” as long as it is in conjunction with existing human rights legislation and the rule of law.

Security leaks divulged by former CIA worker Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the GCHQ’s multiple intelligence gathering activities and its collusion with the NSA. As well as gathering troves of metadata and recording millions of telephone calls, the latest reports obtained by Der Spiegel found that the GCHQ was spying on data exchange companies through a spoof version of the social network site LinkedIn.

Using a method known as ‘Quantum insert’ the GCHQ created dummy versions of the website to target organizations and individuals and smuggle malware onto their computers.

“For LinkedIn the success rate [of rerouting a target to a malicious website] is looking to be greater than 50 percent,”
said the leaked documents.

In addition, more information was revealed at the beginning of November as to the extent of the GCHQ’s cooperation with the NSA. Reports emerged that the GCHQ was feeding the NSA with the internal information intercepted from Google’s and Yahoo’s private networks.

So far the British government has done little to allay fears that UK spy agencies are acting outside the law in violation of human rights.

The Center for European Policy Studies published a paper accusing the UK along with other European countries of systematically violating human rights with their spy practices.

"We are witnessing a systematic breach of people's fundamental rights,"
wrote Sergio Carrera, a Spanish jurist who co-authored the paper with Francesco Ragazzi, a professor of international relations at Leiden University in the Netherlands. They called for action from the EU parliament to distinguish “democracies from police states.”