Internet Governance Forum

(12-15 November 2007,Rio de Janeiro)

Yves Poullet
Council of Europe expert
Director of the Centre for Research into Information Technology and Law of Namur University (Belgium)

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States government took steps to locate terrorists more easily. These measures set the example, but all the security authorities, including those in European countries, are responsible for excesses.

The measures include monitoring what you do on the internet. When you use it, you leave traces of the websites you access, the searches you conduct and the communications you send.

The authorities thought it would be a good idea to make use of telecommunications service operators’ databases to trace suspects.

These technologies exist and are more and more widely used.

They include installing video surveillance cameras to monitor streets and public areas. An individual in London is estimated to be filmed 300 times between home and work.

This search for information is disproportionate. Among the key data protection principles established by the Council of Europe is the importance of striking a fair balance between the aim pursued (in this case public security) and the damage caused to the persons concerned.

The absolute priority given to security and the anxiety on which the media play have caused the authorities to go too far in processing data and seeking out offences.

Citizens need to protest against this excessive and disproportionate approach.

To conclude, I would quote Benjamin Franklin: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”