The Council of Europe (CoE) is an influential, inter-governmental organization that develops conventions and recommendations agreed to by its member states. The CoE plays a particularly important role in guiding international law, with influence well-beyond Europe's borders. The CoE's conventions are legally enforceable documents. The CoE's recommendations are not legally binding, but they create political pressure on governments and corporations to shift their practices according to the principles and standards agreed upon by the member states.
The CoE was founded in 1949 by ten countries seeking to promote democratic principles. Based in Strasbourg, France, the CoE promotes cooperation among European countries and has passed more than 200 treaties to support human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The CoE currently has 47 member states covering a range of issues that impact 800 million citizens. The Council is a separate body from the European Union which has 27 member states. It began addressing Internet policy in the late nineties.
The legal authority of the CoE rests on conventions to which member states are obliged to comply after ratifying the Convention. Important treaties include the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms. The Convention is one of the leading international legal instruments protecting human rights. All Council of Europe member States are obliged to ratify it at the earliest opportunity.
Positive measures include the CoE’s adoption of the landmark 1980 Privacy Convention the first legally binding privacy treaty. The CoE has also adopted a declaration upholding anonymity on the Internet as a necessary component of free expression and a bulwark against government surveillance. Unfortunately, the CoE has also adopted a Cybercrime Treaty which gives overbroad surveillance powers to law enforcement and lacks safeguards for the protection of privacy and civil liberties. The Council issues guidelines for the development of national legislation on cybercrime and acts as a framework for international co-operation between signatory countries.
The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent body responsible for promoting education, awareness and respect for human rights in member states. The CoE's decision-making body is the Committee of Ministers which is comprised of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of member states. The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) is the CoE’s deliberative body which initiates treaties to create a Europe-wide legislative system. The Secretary General oversees the CoE’s Secretariat or permanent staff. The Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs has overall responsibility for the development and implementation of the human rights and rule of law standards developed by the CoE.
The Internet related committees are the Steering Committee on Media and new Communication Services (CDMC), The consultative Committee for Cybercrime Convention and the consultative Committee for the Privacy Convention 108.
EFF Recommendations to the CoE
EFF has recently been monitoring the CoE and its Internet policy-making process to ensure that they live up to their human rights commitments. EFF is currently monitoring the CoE’s Steering Committee on Media and New Communication Services (CDMC), and have submitted comments on the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on New Media (MC-NM).