The UK breaks Council of Europe consensus on scrutiny of mass surveillance methods in Belgrade conference Resolution


The UK says it ‘cannot accept’ Council of Europe plans to examine the gathering of ‘vast amounts’ of electronic communications data on individuals by security agencies, including the deliberate weakening of encryption systems through flaws and backdoors in the security system of the Internet.

The pledge by ministers of the 47 Council of Europe member states to include close scrutiny of government mass surveillance activities in its future work programme, in order to determine whether or not they conform with the European Convention on Human Rights, was one of the core issues discussed at the conference of ministers responsible for media and information society held in Belgrade on November 7 and 8.

The publication of the final text of the resulting Political Declaration and three Resolutions was delayed until 13 November in order to allow the UK government time to decide its response, after Germany, France, the Netherlands and some other states rejected a UK proposal to delete a part of the Resolution on Internet Freedom.


The full text of the Political Declaration and Resolutions was adopted without being formally blocked by the UK, but it included the UK Statement dissociating itself from the contested wording.


The United Kingdom’s Statement is noted as a footnote in the text, as follows: 


“The United Kingdom needs to place formally on record that while it has not blocked consensus on this text, the UK needs to disassociate itself from paragraph 13(v). The UK strongly supports the overall approach of the Resolution including supporting a free and open internet that promotes freedom of expression. However, as we stated during the plenary session, we are unable to accept the text of paragraph 13(v). The UK considers that paragraph 13(v) may have the effect of unduly constraining the scope of the work that the Council of Europe is invited to carry out. The UK proposed alternative language in line with the equivalent provision in the Political Declaration (cf. Para 7 of the Political Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Democracy in the Digital Age) which we consider provides a more neutral and objective basis for the Council of Europe’s work in this area. The UK does not consider the language of paragraph 13(v) to have any influence on positions that the UK may take on this issue, both in the Council of Europe and in other fora.”

(Belgrade, 8/11/2013)