Human Rights in the Information Society – rediscover the proportionality

By EDRi · September 26, 2007

On 13-14 September 2007 the French Commission for UNESCO, UNESCO and the
Council of Europe organised the conference “Ethics and Human Rights in the
Information Society” in Strasbourg, to which EDRi was invited to contribute.

This conference was the third in a cycle of regional conferences on the
ethical dimensions of the information society, which aims to contribute to
the WSIS process and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The first two
regional conferences took place in Latin-America and Africa. While the
Latin-American conference contributed to the exchange of views in the
region, the African conference was suffering from a lack of participation of
local stakeholders. There, mainly African expatriots from the USA and Europe
and representatives of South Africa were present.

At the conference in Strasbourg some estimated fifty participants were
present. With equality of access, freedom of expression, identity and social
networks and security and governance, the presentations and discussions
covered the topics of the four round table sessions on a rather global
level, while the draft code of ethics presented by the organisers was hardly

Different views on codes of ethics in general were expressed in the
presentations and discussions. Questions like if soft law (like codes of
ethics) is the right mean to address the global challenges of the
Information Society, if the different ethical standards around the world can
reasonably be merged into a single code of ethics, if it had been better to
choose a multi stakeholder bottom up or a closed doors top down approach
were addressed in various contributions but not finally agreed on.

There was mutual consent that human rights are the core ethical basis on
which any regulation of the Information Society has to be built.
Unfortunately it remains questionable if all participants share the same
perception of what defining human rights as the core ethical basis means in
practice. While for example some consider the CoE Cybercrime Convention to
be a basis for a global regulation of the Information Society (this
convention lacks – amongst others – privacy and civil rights protections and
covers any crime where the evidence could be in computerised form), others
like EDRi (and myself) argue that this convention should be rejected and is
now more dangerous than ever.

In my presentation at the security and governance round table I consequently
addressed the question if all the anti terror measures adopted in the last
years in Europe were proportionate to the threat stemming from terrorism in
this region. To this end I presented the findings on terrorism submitted by

According to Europol “EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report TE-SAT
2007” terrorism in the EU is basically a local problem in France
(separatists in Corsica) and Spain (separatists in the Basque region). The
vast majority of terrorist attacks in the EU in 2006 was carried out in
these regions (419 of 498 attacks). The rest were left or right wing
motivated attacks. There were no successful Islamist terrorist attacks in
2006 and the vast majority of all attacks was not intending to kill. The
number of arrested individuals differs. Of the 706 suspects 257 were
suspected of islamism, 226 of separatism, 52 of left wing and 15 of right
wing terror. Of the approx. 260 suspects of islamist terror less than 10 %
(meaning less than 26) were suspected of the preparation, planning or
execution of terrorist attacks.

Given this figures it is certainly questionable if measures like:
– mandatory data retention, that infringes the human rights of all 450
million Europeans,
– the transfer of passenger name records and SWIFT financial data to the US,
– the introduction of biometric identifiers in European passports,
– the mutual access of member states to police databases (PrĂ¼m Treaty)
– the central EU fingerprint database, that is planned for 2008,
are proportionate to the threat stemming from terrorism in Europe.

Given the series of measures for fighting terrorism and crime limiting the
freedom of individuals and infringing human rights, it is necessary to
reconsider their impact on human rights, which are the foundation of our
society, and to rediscover the protection of human rights as a core
obligation of all European states.

To this end, a multi stakeholder approach should be taken, involving all
relevant groups, governments, the private sector and civil society alike.
The first steps have already been taken during the World Summit on the
Information Society and the IGF. The concrete outcome will depend on how
seriously this process is treated and if the results elaborated will find
their way into binding policy.

Ethics and human rights in information society (13-14.09.2007)

UNESCO Draft Code of Ethics

EDRi’s Contribution – The Interrelation of Human Rights and Security

German version

Cybercrime Convention

Eight Reasons the International Cybercrime Treaty Should be Rejected

EDRI-gram: ENDitorial: The 2001 CoE Cybercrime Convention more dangerous
than ever (20.06.2007)

Europol, EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report TE-SAT 2007 (03.2007)

(Contribution by Andreas Krisch – EDRi)