European officials have voiced concerns that the scale of surveillance in countries including the UK and America could be a threat to human rights.
The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe is perturbed by the “far-reaching, technologically advanced systems” which are used to collect and store data from private citizens.
The tactics used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) were singled out for particular criticism, although the wide-ranging powers exercised by Britain’s own GCHQ have also come under scrutiny.
A report, published by the parliamentary assembly this week, suggests that Britain may be breaching Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which enshrine the right to a fair trial and privacy respectively).
“These rights are cornerstones of democracy. Their infringement without adequate judicial control jeopardises the rule of law,” said the report.
Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt opens the document with a quote by the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitysn: “Our freedom is built on what others do not know of our existences.”
Over the 35 pages that follow he makes the case that powers which were introduced to target terrorists and organised crime have spiralled out of control and are now undermining basic freedoms.
The committee has made a number of recommendations to prevent security agencies abusing surveillance laws.
These include stronger parliamentary/judicial control of the intelligence services and rules which would mean that personal data could only be collected without consent if “court-ordered on the basis of reasonable suspicion”.
Officials also believe that there needs to be greater protection for whistleblowers, such as former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who have exposed agencies’ wrongdoing.