The surveillance society (4): a further study for the European Parliament

Following the so called “Snowden revelations” at the end of the last legislature the European Parliament adopted a wide ranging resolution addressing the main problems arising from an emerging surveillance society.  The resolution adopted inter alia “A European Digital Habeas Corpus” deemed to  protect  fundamental rights in a digital age.

Work on this sensitive issue is continuing also in this legislature as the European Parliament has to play a pivotal role in the establishment of the European Digital Agenda, the reform of data protection and to approve an “umbrella” agreement with the United States which is deemed to cover also the access to personal data for security purposes.

To support this Parliamentary strategy several studies have been done the last of them being a study done by the EP “Scientific and Technology Options Assessment “(STOA) which was presented in the responsible Parliamentary Committee (LIBE) Meeting on 23 April 2015.

The aim of the study is to propose measures to reduce the risks identified with the current generation of networks and services and to identify long-term technology oriented policy options for a better, more secure and more privacy friendly internet, whilst at the same time allowing governmental law enforcement and security agencies to perform their duties, and obtain quickly and legally all the information needed to fight crime and to protect national security interests.

The first part of the study concludes with a list of security solutions to help citizens protect themselves from illicit mass surveillance activities. In its Conclusions it recognise that “Mass surveillance is a reality today and has been applied for years by national intelligence agencies of a number of countries, namely those allied in the Five Eyes coalition, but also including EU members and other countries. The agencies involved in mass surveillance practices justify these methods with the doctrine of pre-emptive prevention of crime and terrorism and adopt the principle of omniscience as its core purpose. This objective of intercepting all communication taking place over Internet or telephone networks is in many cases pursued by applying questionable, if not outright illegal intrusions in IT and Telecommunication systems.This strategy accumulates an amount of information that can only be processed and analysed by systems of artificial intelligence, able to discern patterns which indicate illegal, criminal, or terrorist activities. While warranted and lawful interception of data on targeted suspects is a required and undisputed tool for law enforcement to access evidence, the generalised approach of information gathering through mass surveillance is violating the right to privacy and freedom of speech. The delegation of decisions on suspicious data patterns or behaviour of citizens to intelligent computer systems is furthermore preventing accountability and creating the menace of an Orwellian surveillance society. Many citizens are not aware of the threats they may be subject to when using the Internet or telecommunication devices. As of today, the only way for citizens to counteract surveillance and prevent breach of privacy consists in guaranteeing uncorrupted end-to-end encryption of content and transport channel in all their communications. Due to the amount/complexity/heterogeneity of tools this is however a task too complex to achieve for most of technically unexperienced user. This situation calls for both, awareness creation and the provision of integrated, user friendly and easy to use solutions that guarantee privacy and security of their communications. But policy makers must understand that the problem of mass surveillance can not be solved on a technical terrain, but needs to be addressed on a political level. An adequate balance between civil liberties and legitimate national security interests has to be found, based on a public discussion that empowers citizens to decide upon their civil rights affected and the societal values at stake”.

The second part of the study concludes with the proposal of several policy options with different levels of public intervention and technological disruption.

A STOA options brief below provides  an overview of all the policy options and  Two short Video-Clips  have been published on YouTube to raise the awareness of the public.

Further information


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