Privacy is a big deal these days. With the explosion in blogging and social media use people are continuously being advised of the need to protect their own personal privacy.

It is all too easy to disclose details on the web in the heat of the moment, only to then realise that you have said too much. Hopefully, the message is getting out there now such that everyone is far more careful about what they say, where they say it and to whom.

I would also like to think that the work of the information security community in educating the masses is paying dividends in terms of increasing general security awareness such that web users are now more likely to back up their privacy concerns with increased ownership of their own computer and internet security.

But there is another threat that has been growing and receiving a whole lot of news coverage lately – government surveillance.

I’m sure you are all aware now of the likes of PRISM and alleged spying by many a government around the world. If you think you live in a country where that doesn’t happen then the chances are that you are somewhat naive in your beliefs.

Mass surveillance by the state is probably here to stay whether we like it or not, despite questions about who exactly should be spied upon.

On the face of it at least, the European Union do seem to have our rights in mind though.

Speaking to a European Parliament inquiry, experts said that the mass surveillance of UK and European citizens undertaken by the NSA and GCHQ may have contravened international law.

London Metropolitan University Professor of International Law, Douwe Korff, told the Civil Liberties Committee that the

“kind of surveillance we now know that has taken place is utterly incompatible with the most fundamental rights and data protection principles in the EU.”

which would suggest that anyone bringing a case to the European Court of Human Rights would likely have a strong case.

Martin Scheinin, former UN special rapporteur on human rights, would seem to be in agreement as he said that the surveillance showed,

“an unlawful or arbitrary interference with privacy or correspondence, and this conclusion follows independently from multiple grounds.”

Scheinin also pointed out how the surveillance practices of both GCHQ and the NSA were in breach of Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under Article 41 of that same covenant, he said, it would be possible for countries to lodge an “inter-state”  complaint in order to apply limits to the spying activities of the UK and US.

Whether any cases make it to the European Court of Human Rights remains to be seen and may well depend on how the EU moves forward in this matter. The next scheduled meeting is set to take place on November 7 and it will be interesting to hear further arguments on the matter.

Whilst surveillance of those suspected of being involved in terrorism and crime is undoubtedly essential in the world today, I think we do need to stop and consider how much spying is too much.

Do you worry about the governments of the world spying on you as an individual or as a company entity? Or do you worry far more about other, more traditional and better understood privacy concerns borne out of the misuse of data online?

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