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The Council of Europe wants action on eavesdropping

The post-Snowden world needs answers and demands change
Wed Jan 29 2014, 12:41

THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE has used Data Protection Day to host a discussion of whether Edward Snowden's communications surveillance revelations have destroyed trust between European states and the US.

The discussion, called "After Snowden: using law and technology to counter snooping", was sponsored by Dutch MEP Pieter Omtzigt, who is the PACE rapporteur, and featured Jacob Appelbaum, a software developer for the The Onion Router (TOR) Project, Douwe Korff, professor of international law at London Metropolitan University and Christian Grothoff, leader of the Emmy-Noether research group in Computer Science at the Technische Universitat München.

Held yesterday it was due to be streamed live but technical issues prevented that. Now a recording has been released.

In the discussion the panel members speak about the post revelation world, saying they have shown that the internet is broken.

Grothoff said that the number of backdoors in widely used systems put everything from people to power stations at risk. "[The] vulnerabilities in equipment is like having nuclear launch codes set at 0000," he said.

"We need to stop using proprietary software whose backdoors have turned us into a colony. Free software is about reclaiming our rights. Avoiding centralised trusted authentication will help us resist attacks. Free software must be mandatory."

Appelbaum, who is at the sharp end of internet privacy battles in his role at TOR and has been responsible for some of the reports in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, said that he does not have much positive to say about the present situation, which he considers unfairly weighted.

Talking about the reports of snooping on German Chancellor Merkel, which might have lasted for a dozen years, he said that anyone other than the NSA would have been punished for this, saying, "The German prosecutor is not sure whether to open the case."

He added, "There are two rules, the rules for other people and the rules as they might apply to the NSA."

These lopsided scales have put the NSA in a position where it can "colonise electronic systems" and harvest people's communications and movements with "no judicial oversight".

He baulked at the argument that such surveillance is necessary to stop crime, explaining that the NSA dragnet would not touch criminals like drug cartels who use their own backdoor free systems, but can be used to harass individuals.

Talking about the GCHQ and the Turbine system, he said that individuals can find their lives interfered with and that things like hotel bookings are cancelled without their knowledge.

He said, "We have whole life surveillance - geography, gender, sexual orientation... you name it."

Human rights lawyer Korff said that present levels of surveillance that have been built up since the last world war, are "fundamentally contrary to human rights", adding that it is "utterly unacceptable and unconstitutional".

"Spying happened in the World wars and carried on into the Cold War," he added. "For decades we have left it in the shadows, let the spies play their John LeCarre games. [But] what happened in the shadows has sprouted an enormous beast. The beast must be tamed."

This will require something of an overhaul. Korff said that treaties that cover US and UK relations and those with Germany date back decades. He added that many of the legal basis that the national agencies work under are still secret. "They must be clarified," he insisted. "The Council of Europe must demand full information from state bodies." µ


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