​Online privacy ‘a human right’, European security body rules

Reuters / Toru Hanai
A new paper from Europe’s top civil liberties body has declared online privacy to be a human right, while challenging the British government’s plans to introduce more surveillance on communications technology.

Areportpublished by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe on Tuesday states how the body is “deeply concerned” by the powers being used by the UK and US to monitor, store and analyze the communications data of their citizens, in light of the revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“The disclosures have provided compelling evidence of the existing far-reaching, technologically-advanced systems put in place by US intelligence services and their partners in certain Council of Europe member states to collect, store and analyze communication data, including content, location and other metadata, on a massive scale, as well as targeted surveillance measures encompassing numerous persons against whom there is no ground for suspicion of any wrongdoing,” the report says.

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The report also expresses concerns from ‘certain’ intelligence agencies “of seeking out systematically, using and even creating “back doors” and other weaknesses in security standards … which could easily be exploited also by terrorists and cyber terrorists and other criminals.”

The report warns that increased surveillance would also contradict clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly in relation to the right to privacy, freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

The Council of Europe is made up of delegates from 47 member states, including the European Union and representatives from former Soviet states.

The report, which was written by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, begins with a quote from Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Our freedom is built on what others do not know of our existences.”

While the assembly had sent a letter to German, American and British diplomats inquiring as to whether they colluded in monitoring data, the US did not reply, while Germany and Britain denied the allegations.

Though the council has not verified the claims, it acknowledges that in the UK’s case it is probably true, due to allowances granted to British security services that allow large scale spying through the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP).

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According to the report, the bill, which was passed in July last year, gives “little need for circumvention anymore.”

Earlier this month, following terrorist attacks in Paris, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to give British security services more powers to monitor communications of British citizens online, if he wins the upcoming general election.

“If I'm prime minister I will make sure it is a comprehensive piece of legislation that makes sure we do not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other,” he said.