From: Exit Staff
EU Accused of “Exporting Surveillance” That Could be Used to “Crush Political and Civil Freedoms”

Privacy International has found that EU bodies are “equipping and training authorities, influencing laws, and developing mass-scale biometric databases in non-member countries” and providing “digital tools of surveillance” that could be used to “crush political and civil freedoms and undermine democracy” unless urgent reforms are made.

The UK-based charity looked at how the EU has focussed its influence on managing flows of migration using “economic, diplomatic, and security” and outsourcing border controls and migration management to other countries.”

By equipping and training third country authorities, including Albania, they hope to stem the flow of people attempting to reach the EU’s borders. But these tools, they report, are being used to enhance political control by tracking and surveilling populations, activists, journalists, and opposition movements.

Privacy International said that without urgent changes to the EU’s policies, this programme of outsourcing could have a serious impact on freedom and democracy.  

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU provided a sophisticated wiretapping system to the State Investigation and Protection Agency which is then used throughout the law enforcement system. They were also given fingerprinting devices and databases.

On the Ukraine-Belarus border, the EU financed cameras and license plate scanning software to enable authorities to be alerted to information about approaching vehicles. The similar kit was distributed along the Ukrainian-Moldovan border in 2018.

The training was given to Albanian authorities by German police under the title “Financial Investigation Challenges in Regional Migration’. Courses of this type, given by FRONTEX taught participants how to secure evidence for intelligence purposes including from mobile phones, how to acquire fingerprints from people including children and those with disabilities, and some basic self-defence techniques.

FRONTEX also organised training in Croatia in 2019 where Albanian authorities were present. They were instructed on how to use technical equipment for land border surveillance, radio communication, and techniques for searching people and vehicles.

According to Privacy International, limited information on international human rights law was given and failed to stem “regular reports by activists and monitors showing evidence of severe abuses and unlawful practices at the hands of authorities in EU member states and across other Balkan countries.”

The report also found that EU projects and bodies were assisting for countries to promote or amend specific laws on migration and border control.

Privacy International said that “These activities are financed by a confusing set of different EU bodies and instruments with different objectives in mind.”

They are calling on the European Commission to work with member states to address the inherent dangers caused by the instruments they are providing to these “regimes”.

“In particular, we are calling on the Commission to improving due diligence and risk assessments, increase transparency and parliamentary scrutiny and public oversight, and to instead focus resources on supporting the capacity of judicial, security, and regulatory institutions to protect rights before proceeding with allocating resources and technologies which, in absence of proper oversight, will likely result in fundamental rights abuses.”