Mass Surveillance, Human Rights, and the European Courts

Last December, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe ruled that mass surveillance by intelligence agencies worldwide is a threat to fundamental human rights. This is in response to mass collection of signals intelligence (SIGINT) by the NSA in the US, GCHQ in the United Kingdom, and others in the Western world. The report does recognize the use and usefulness of legitimate, targeted surveillance.

One of their biggest concerns is that by engaging in mass surveillance, governments have weakened internet security by creating back doors to encryption, security standards, and operating systems. Those same back doors that let in agencies can also be exploited by terrorists and cyber criminals.

Specifically the report does call for:

• Collection of personal data without consent only if court-ordered on the basis of reasonable suspicion.

  • Stronger parliamentary/judicial control of the intelligence services.
  • Credible protection for whistleblowers (like Snowden) who expose wrongdoing by spy agencies.
  • An international “codex” of rules governing intelligence sharing that national agencies could opt into.

It is fitting that this post end with the beginning of the report, a quote by Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Our freedom is built on what others do not know of our existences”.

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