Effects of counter-terrorism legislation on freedom of the media
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A new report conducted by Privacy International (PI) for the Council of
Europe Media and Information Society Division reveals effects of new
counter-terrorism laws on media and free expression rights in European
The report “Speaking of Terror” examines how the “war on terror” has
affected access to information, the growth of incitement, glorification and
“extremism” restrictions on speech, blocking of internet sites, increased
surveillance of journalists and limits on protection of journalists’
sources. The report finds that the laws have already seriously affected
freedom of expression while providing little benefit in fighting terrorism.
The report also examines the roles of the United Nations Security Council,
European Union and Council of Europe in promoting new laws while paying
little attention to human rights.
The findings of the study reveal that international bodies including the
Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) have adopted many
international agreements that either ignore or only pay scant attention to
fundamental human rights and the importance of a free media. Their agendas
are often driven by those countries that are most aggressive in adopting
expansive counter-terrorism laws including the UK, US and Russia. The role
of European institutions such as the EU and the CoE have resulted in greater
adoption and harmonization of these laws than most other regions.
New laws on prohibiting speech that is considered “extremist” or supporting
of terrorism have been a particular problem. These laws are used in many
jurisdictions to suppress political and controversial speech. Newspapers
have been closed and journalists arrested. Web sites are often taken down or
blocked. State secret and national security laws are regularly being used
against journalists and their sources even as access to information laws are
widely accepted and adopted across the CoE.
Protection of journalists’ sources are often undermined by governments
seeking to identify officials who provide information. Even the protection
is widely recognized both in national laws and in decisions of the European
Court of Human Rights.
New anti-terrorism laws are giving authorities wide powers to conduct
surveillance. Other new laws impose technical and administrative
requirements on the ability to intercept communications and keeping
information. Of particular concern are data retention laws which require
the routine surveillance of all mobile and Internet users that can be used
to easily identify sources and journalists’ investigations.
Speaking of Terror: A survey of the effects of counter-terrorism legislation
on freedom of the media in Europe