Protecting the right to privacy in the fight against terrorism
Freedom has been compromised in the fight against terrorism after 11 September. Government decisions have undermined human rights principles with flawed arguments about improved security” said today the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing his issue paper on “Protecting the right to privacy in the fight against terrorism.”
“Not only terrorism, but also our reaction to it pose a long-term, engrained threat to human rights. The time has come to review steps taken to collect, store, analyse, share and use personal data” said Commissioner Hammarberg. “Data protection is crucial to the upholding of fundamental democratic values: A surveillance society risks infringing this basic right.”
“In the war on terror, the notion of privacy has been altered” he continued. “General surveillance raises serious democratic problems which are not answered by the repeated assertion that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. This puts the onus in the wrong place: It should be for States to justify the interferences they seek to make on privacy rights.”
Individuals are at risk of being targeted for being suspected extremists or threats to the constitutional legal order. Targets of this kind are moreover increasingly selected through unreliable and ineffective computer profiles. “Large numbers of innocent people are subjected to surveillance, harassment, discrimination, arrest or worse” underlined Commissioner Hammarberg. “This robs targeted individuals of fundamental safeguards, leads to alienation of the groups in question and thus actually undermines security. Moreover, these measures have a negative potential for discrimination which must be averted.”
In the issue paper, the Commissioner recommends that the response to these trends be a re-assertion of the basic principles of the rule of law as enshrined in international conventions and case-law. “In the fight against terrorism and organised crime, human rights standards and principles should not be abandoned but, rather, re-affirmed” stressed the Commissioner. “Terrorism must be fought, but not at the expense of human rights protection” he concluded.