The International Federation of Journalists and its European regional group, the European Federation of Journalists today called on the European Parliament to block attempts this week to allow member states to pass laws that will give the authorities regular access to people's telephone and Internet communications.
A draft law to be voted on by the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday could, says Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "open the door to the snooping society in which people's private communications will become subject to official monitoring."
The IFJ is calling on MEPs to reject amendments to the 1997 European Directive on the Protection of Telecommunications Data and Information to allow EU states to pass laws to keep data about people's electronic communications for access by police, customs, immigration and intelligence services. Under existing rules data can only be retained for a short period for "billing" purposes (ie: to help the customer confirm usage details) and then it must be erased.
"This amendment to policy would have been unthinkable before September 11 last year, but politicians are using public uncertainty and security concerns to undermine people's rights and liberties," said Aidan White. "This charter for official snooping in the EU must be opposed."
Until now, the European Parliament has said the position should remain that access for purposes of national security and criminal investigations should be authorised in a case-by-case basis by the courts.
But the Parliament is under pressure from the EU Council of Ministers. Because the measure is subject to the co-decision procedure, whereby the Council and the European Parliament have to agree the final text, the two bodies are potentially on a collision course.
"Although Brussels bureaucrats will argue that the Council's proposal is not binding and that it will be up to each government to decide how to respond we hope the Parliament will stand firm," says the IFJ. "We know the that EU governments are planning to adopt a Framework Decision that will bind all members states to introduce the retention of data."
The IFJ says that if telecommunications - telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and Internet usage - are placed under official surveillance data protection will be fatally undermined. "So will the capacity of journalists to monitor the apparatus of state and to store information," said White.
"The citizen's right to private space and for the press to investigate and scrutinise the authorities without intimidation are freedoms that distinguish democracies from authoritarian regimes," says the IFJ, "They must not be given up lightly."