Europe’s top rights body says mass surveillance practices by the UK and US are a fundamental threat to human rights and breach of privacy rights protected by European law.
The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe said in a report on Monday that it is “deeply concerned” by the “far-reaching, technologically advanced systems” used by London and Washington to gather, store and analyze the data of private citizens.
The assembly said British laws that grant the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), UK’s spying agency, wide-ranging powers are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, including articles covering the right to privacy, freedom of expression and right to a fair trial.
“These rights are cornerstones of democracy. Their infringement without adequate judicial control jeopardizes the rule of law,” said the assembly report.
The report also said there is compelling evidence that Washington’s intelligence agencies and their allies including Britain are collecting data “on a massive scale,” adding that the US-UK operations encompass “numerous persons against whom there is no ground for suspicion of any wrongdoing.”
Assembly’s concerns over intelligence agencies’ powers
According to the report’s author, Dutch MP Pieter Herman Omtzigt, surveillance powers have grown and political oversight has weakened, which has resulted in a “runaway surveillance machine.”
Omtzigt added that political leaders have lost control over their own intelligence agencies, as many politicians can no longer comprehend the immensely technical programs involved in the surveillance operations.
In addition, the report said the assembly is deeply concerned by the fact that intelligence agencies have intentionally weakened Internet security by creating so-called back doors, which bypass normal authentication to gain access to a computer or its data, and systematically exploiting weakness in security standards and implementation.
The report said the back doors can easily be exploited by “terrorists and cyber-terrorists or other criminals,” urging a greater use of encryption.
The assembly is also worried over the use of “secret laws, secret courts and secret interpretations of such laws” to justify mass surveillance, saying the legislation is “very poorly scrutinized.”
Edward Snowden’s revelations
Furthermore, the report described the scale of spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA), revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, as “stunning,” adding that the mass surveillance has failed to stop terrorist attacks, despite contrary claims by the US and UK.
Snowden began leaking documents in June 2013, revealing the existence of widespread surveillance programs by US and UK intelligence agencies.
The secret documents leaked by the 30-year-old computer analyst revealed that the GCHQ and NSA had monitored more than 1,000 targets in at least 60 countries between 2008 and 2011 by secretly accessing cable networks carrying the world’s phone calls and internet traffic.