"Orwellian" anti-terror laws across Europe trampling human rights - Amnesty

The Amnesty report calls proposed new surveillance laws in Britain "among the most draconian in the EU"

"Orwellian" anti-terror laws across Europe trampling human rights - Amnesty

Police counter terrorism officers pose during a media opportunity in London, 03-Aug-2016. Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Sweeping new counter-terrorism laws are driving Europe into a “deep and dangerous state of permanent securitisation” and undermining fundamental human rights according to a new report.

The report from Amnesty international reveals how a “deluge of laws and amendments passed with break-neck speed” are undermining hard-won human rights protections across the EU.

Entitled ‘Dangerously disproportionate: The ever-expanding national security state in Europe’ the report is based on a comprehensive analysis of counter-terrorism measures across 14 countries in the EU.

“In the wake of a series of appalling attacks, from Paris to Berlin, governments have rushed through a raft of disproportionate and discriminatory laws,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“Taken alone, these individual counter-terrorism measures are worrying enough; but when seen together, a disturbing picture emerges in which unchecked powers are trampling freedoms that have long been taken for granted.”

Surveillance states

The report takes particular aim at the British government’s controversial Investigatory Powers Act - labelled the "snooper's charter" by critics - which recently passed into law.

The act has been deemed unlawful by the European Court of Justice - however given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it is unclear how the ruling will affect the bill.

If enacted, the law would:

  • Force internet and communications companies to retain customer browsing histories for up to a year
  • Protect intelligence agencies right to bulk collect communications data and to hack in to electronic devices
  • Provide the British judiciary with the power to sign off on warrants for intrusive surveillance.

The 70-page Amnesty report alleges that the powers introduced in Britain are “among the most draconian in the EU.”

It said the powers allow for the mass interception of and possible access to the data of millions of people.

However the document warns that many other EU countries have also joined the ranks of “surveillance states” - with mass surveillance powers granted or expanded in France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

It said Poland’s 2016 Counter-terrorism Law in particular permits covert surveillance measures targeting foreign nationals without any judicial oversight for three months.

States of emergency

The report also highlights how new legislation in many state makes it easier to declare a formal state of emergency - granting special powers of to security and intelligence services.

In France a state of emergency has been renewed five times, “standardising a range of intrusive measures, including powers to ban demonstrations and conduct searches without judicial warrants.”

The report said new legislation in Hungary provides for sweeping executive powers in the event of a declared emergency - including the banning of public assemblies, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and the freezing of assets.

Writing in The Guardian following the release of the report, Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen said “In a number of countries, emergency measures that are supposed to be temporary have become embedded in ordinary law.”

“Given the febrile state of European politics, people should be extremely wary of the range of powers and extent of control over their lives that they are prepared to hand over to their governments,” he wrote.

“The rise of far-right political discourse, anti-refugee sentiment, stereotyping and discrimination against Muslims and intolerance of free speech or other forms of expression increase the risk that these emergency powers will target certain people for reasons that have nothing at all to do with a genuine threat to national security.

“Indeed, this is happening in Europe already.”

Racial Profiling

The report found that many EU member states are attempting to draw links between the refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism.

Migrants and refugees, human rights defenders, activists and minority groups have been particularly targeted by the new powers.

“Whilst the threat posed by terrorism is very real and must always be responded to resolutely, the role of governments should be to provide security for people to enjoy their rights rather than restricting people’s rights in the name of security,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“EU governments are using counter-terrorism measures to consolidate draconian powers, target groups in discriminatory ways and strip away human rights under the guise of defending them. 

“We are in danger of creating societies in which liberty becomes the exception and fear the rule.”