After multiple hearings and extensive research, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (COE) issued a lengthy report this week that addresses mass surveillance. The report (in English and French ), written by Peter Omtzigt, Rapporteur for the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, expresses deep concern about the threat dragnet surveillance poses to fundamental human rights. Such out-of-control surveillance violates various international conventions to which COE member states are signatories, the report asserts; and the manner in which surveillance is conducted – under a cloak of secret laws, secret courts and secret interpretations of those laws – undermines the rule of law and democratic norms. In addition to decrying the dubious conduct of intelligence agencies, the report points out that some of their tactics, such as weakening encryption standards and creating “back doors” to access data, actually makes citizens more vulnerable to harm by terrorists and other cyber criminals.
Significantly, the report identifies whistleblowers as important in rolling back the pervasive “surveillance-industrial complex,” not only because of Edward Snowden’s role in alerting the world to the instant abuses, but as a vital resource for ensuring that any future reforms are actually enforced. Among the recommendations made to address the abuses engaged in by COE member states and others (most notably the US) is providing for “credible, effective protection for whistle-blowers exposing unlawful surveillance activities, including asylum in cases of threatened unfair prosecution in their home country.” WIN notes the testimony of its director, Anna Myers, last June during a hearing before the same committee addressing mass surveillance and whistleblower protection.
This report will be debated by the plenary later this year, with another report on strengthening whistleblower protections due in a few months.