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Council of Europe warns governments digital tracking can bring down democracy

The Council of Europe has issued a warning to all 47 member states, including the UK, about the damage digital tracking and surveillance can have on human rights, law and democracy.

The Council's Committee of Ministers issued a declaration to governments across Europe, stating that the current legislation allowing for overly broad surveillance of citizens can have a “chilling effect” on free speech, both for citizens and the media.

Governments were reminded that tracking and surveillance measures employed by law enforcement must comply with agreements made under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8 of which includes the right to privacy.

The Committee also called on governments to abide by Data Protection Convention 108, which sets boundaries, requirements and safeguards for the automatic processing of personal data.

It warned of criminal repercussions for unlawful surveillance and tracking and called for controls to prevent the misuse of technology to undermine human rights.

The declaration comes in the wake of the Prism Internet surveillance scandal that has rocked the US. The UK's foreign secretary, William Hague, has denied British involvement.

The Council of Europe's warning suggests that European countries will be reprimanded if they are implicated in similar invasions of privacy.