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Counter Terrorism Laws are Creating Surveillance States

Big Brother is watching you – and checking your financial information, scanning your body and keeping your fingerprints on file. That’s just the bit you know about.

A new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Martin Scheinin, reveals a startling amount of private information which is being stored, shared and used by governments and government agencies without any reference to evidence against an individual. Innocent civilians in almost every nation are being profiled, tracked across the world and have at least some of their communications intercepted without their knowledge.

Anyone who does have their privacy infringed without good cause faces an uphill struggle  in seeking redress:

The challenge of gaining access to judicial review is that some legal regimes may prevent access to the courts unless individuals can show that interference has taken place, which is precluded by the secretive nature of the surveillance programmes. Individuals may not be able to prove or demonstrate that they are actually under surveillance. As a result, individuals may not be able to appeal to courts for remedy.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and
fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin

UN Special Rapporteur: Martin Scheinin

The instances of over-zealous intrusion are numerous, but the report provides a few specific examples of bad behaviour from UN Member States:

Following the Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004, the Spanish police managed to lift a fingerprint from an unexploded bomb. Fingerprint experts from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) declared that a lawyer’s fingerprint was a match to the crime-scene sample. The person’s fingerprint was on the national fingerprint system because he was a former soldier of the United States. The individual was detained for two weeks in solitary confinement, even though the fingerprint was not his. Examiners failed to sufficiently reconsider the match, a situation that was made worse for him when it was discovered that he, as a lawyer, had defended a convicted terrorist, was married to an Egyptian immigrant, and had himself converted to Islam.37

…In Germany, the Federal Intelligence Service was found in 2006 to have been illegally spying on journalists using communications surveillance and placing spies in newsrooms.43 In Colombia, the Administrative Department of Security was found, in 2009, to have been conducting illegal surveillance of members of the media, human rights workers, Government officials and judges, and their families for seven years.44…

…Internet service providers in Bangladesh were required in 2007 to turn over records of their users’ identities, passwords and usage to the authorities. Some users were then visited by the authorities…

…In the United States, the FBI counterterrorism unit monitored the activities of peace activists at the time of the 2004 political conventions…

…In Uganda, the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Act allows for wiretapping and searches of the media if there are “special reasonable grounds” that the information has “substantial value” in an anti-terrorism investigation….

…In the United States, environmental and other peaceful protestors were placed on terrorist watch lists by the Maryland State Police before political conventions in New York and Denver.51 In the United Kingdom, surveillance cameras are commonly used for political protests and images kept in a database.52 …

Taken from the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and
fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin

With national elections taking place this year in the UK, Phillipines, Ukraine and Sri Lanka, concerns about the ability to effectively demonstrate against one’s own government without fear of being monitored, branded a terrorist, or being arrested without due cause, must certainly be in the forefront of the minds of citizens.

However, elections also provide an opportunity for voters to demand more stringent safeguards for the right to privacy and due process.

About Law Desk

Law Desk
Editors and staffers from the Law Desk at The Global Herald.

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