State surveillance of internet data: when is it legitimate?

Following the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, when and on what terms states should have the right to interfere with an individual's internet data was the focus of a hearing in PACE's Culture Committee today.

Strasbourg Court lawyer Lawrence Early laid out the European Convention principles governing state surveillance of an individual's communications - it should be regulated by law, proportionate and pursue a legitimate aim.

British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell briefed parliamentarians on the technical detail of the massive increase in data eavesdropping being carried out by states worldwide, as well as new tools and techniques, pointing out that European institutions were themselves targets. Most of this, he suggested, constituted an illegal "secret world".

Microsoft executive Dorothee Belz pointed out that her company had no control over most data infrastructure, but that secret services had no "back door" into their systems for those parts they did control, and that they tried to be as transparent as possible about state requests for access to data.