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Media and Information Society



Draft Committee of Ministers declaration on risks
to fundamental rights stemming from
digital tracking and other surveillance technologies

1. Council of Europe member states have undertaken to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (CETS No. 5, hereinafter referred to as the Convention). Having regard to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, the resulting obligations for member states can be negative, that is to refrain from interference, or positive, involving, inter alia, the protection of individuals from action by private parties which could jeopardize their enjoyment of those rights1.

2. The right to private life, as provided for in Article 8 of the Convention, is essential for protecting people against misuse of power or authority and for enabling their participation in democratic governance processes. Restrictions of this right can only be justified when it is necessary in a democratic society, in accordance with the law and for one of the limited purposes set out in Article 8, paragraph 2. In some cases, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the mere existence of legislation allowing the surveillance of citizens may impinge on their fundamental right to private life2.

3. A deficit in the protection of private life, and its corollary personal data, can have adverse effects on the enjoyment of other fundamental rights. This is particularly the case as regards freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association and, in consequence, people's right to participation and deliberation in governance processes. In this latter respect, for people to be able to make genuinely free decisions, they need to feel free from intrusion, surveillance and other forms of interference with their privacy.

4. People nowadays rely on a constantly growing range of both fixed-location and mobile devices which enhance their possibilities to communicate, interact, participate in different kinds of activities, including those which involve matters of public interest, and manage practical aspects of their everyday life.

5. The use of these devices enables providers to collect, store and process vast amount of users' personal data, including the nature and, in some cases, the content of their communications, the information they accessed or the websites they visited and, in case of mobile devices, their whereabouts and movements. Such data gathering and processing can reveal delicate (e.g. financial data) or sensitive information (e.g. as regards health, political, religious preferences, sexual habits) on the persons concerned. Those devices can therefore provide detailed and intimate portrayals of the individuals using them. Also, data storing in inappropriate conditions constitutes a problem.

6. Reportedly, certain software installed on mobile devices is designed or programmed to collect a wide range of personal data – including sensitive data – related to the use of those devices. Such information can apparently be accessed by or transmitted to third parties without the knowledge of the users and without permitting them to change or adjust the application of the software in their mobile devices. Conscious of the implications for users’ right to privacy and protection of personal data, a number of member states’ data protection authorities have decided to investigate these cases.

7. Profiles based on the use of new technologies by individuals can be created and used for different purposes, potentially leading to decisions significantly affecting the people concerned even without their knowledge, as highlighted in Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)13 on the protection of personal data in the context of profiling, with clear repercussions on individuals’ autonomy and on society as a whole.

8. The development of technologies based on machine-to-machine communication and radio-frequency identification (RFID) raise additional concerns about their impact on fundamental rights and freedoms.

9. The questions stemming from the use of digital tracking technologies can have significant rule of law implications, which require effective safeguards for individuals’ rights and freedoms against arbitrary interferences. Similarly, tracking and geolocation can have serious consequences on peoples’ right to free movement. Unlawful surveillance activities in cyberspace, whether they concern illegal access, data interception or interference, system surveillance, misuse of devices may have criminal law implications; the Convention on Cybercrime (ECTS 185) is highly relevant in this respect.


10. The practices described above have considerable consequences for the protection of personal data and undermine privacy, which is an essential guarantee of freedom and democracy. A collapse of privacy will have direct consequences for democracy and, ultimately, for society as a whole. The Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data (CETS no 108) is fully applicable in respect of the issues described above.

11. In addition, such practices may pose very specific threats to the rights associated to specific professions, such as journalists as well as other participants in the new communications environment such as bloggers and users as creators of content. The use of certain devices and technologies by journalists and the associated surveillance and tracking could, for example, seriously undermine their right to protection of sources of information which, as highlighted by Recommendation CM R(2000)7 on the right of journalists not to disclose their sources of information, is a basic condition for journalistic investigative work and for the freedom of the media. Moreover, surveillance and tracking technologies could attract additional threats against the personal safety of journalists.

12. As underlined in the Council of Europe Strategy on Internet Governance for 2012-2015, private sector actors should be encouraged to ensure that their corporate policies and practices respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in all of the countries in which they operate. Concerns in this respect may lead to the introduction of suitable export controls to prevent the misuse of technology in third countries to undermine the freedom, dignity and privacy of Internet users

13. Against this background, the Committee of Ministers:

1 X and Y v. the Netherlands; Young, James and Webster v. the UK; Plattform Äsrte für das Leben v. Austria; Powell and Rayner v.the UK; Costello –Roberts v. the UK; Lopez Ostra v. Spain; August v. the UK; A. v. the UK; Z and Others v. the UK; Calvelli and Ciglio v. Italy; Osman v. the UK; Marcks v. Belgium; Airey v. Ireland; Gaskin v. the UK; Gül v. Switzerland; Ahmut v. the Netherlands; D. v. the UK; Guerra v. Italy; Botta v. Italy; L.C.B v. the UK; Z and others v. the U; S. and Marper v. the UK. Footnote for CDMSI information, to be deleted after consideration and possible approval.

2 Klass and Others v. Germany; Malone v. the UK; Weber and Saravia v. Germany; Halford v. the UK; the Association for European Integration and Human Rights and Ekimdzhiev v. Bulgaria, etc. Footnote for CDMSI information, to be deleted after consideration and possible approval.

3 Regarding profiling, already mentioned in the Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)13 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data in the context of profiling (23 November 2010)