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Secret surveillance methods in the Digital Age: How to ensure human rights protection

PRESS RELEASE 12 December 2017 - Secret surveillance powers of authorities are reaching unprecedented levels in the Digital Age, raising challenges for the protection of human rights such as the right to privacy. In her inaugural address at Tilburg University on Friday, December 15th 2017. Prof. Eleni Kosta analyzes the right to privacy and its justified limitations as stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to secret surveillance. What is the capacity of the existing framework to mitigate the challenges?

In May 2013 Edward Snowden revealed that UK and US intelligence services were collaborating in the context of surveillance programs involving personal information of individuals in an unprecedented way. Only since then have people started realizing how far-reaching secret surveillance powers truly are and how dramatically the nature, manner, and magnitude of data collection by secret and intelligence authorities have changed in the Digital Age.

A number of civil rights organizations have filed applications at the European Court of Human Rights against the UK Government claiming violation of the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Although the Court has dealt with cases on secret surveillance before, the size and intensity if of recent secret surveillance measures vest these cases with a special character.

Checks and balances

Despite the fact that states’ secret surveillance programs do not constitute a violation of the right to privacy of citizens in and of themselves, they should abide by a strict system of checks and balances.  Do technological developments such as algorithmic surveillance warrant refinement of existing guarantees or should we completely rethink the system of checks and balances? That is the key question Prof. Eleni Kosta will address in her inaugural lecture and her research at Tilburg University.

Protecting groups of people

Mass surveillance measures increasingly rely on algorithms focusing on groups of people categorized on the basis of various criteria, rather than individuals. However, the nature of mass algorithmic surveillance raises a number of questions in relation to the protection of groups that are generated based on the algorithmic computations. Will the focus of protection remain on the individual, as traditionally done by the European Court of Human Rights, or will new approaches be developed in the regulation of human rights protecting groups of people?

In her role as Chair of Technology Law and Human Rights, Eleni Kosta intends to address the crucial need for further research in this area. She will further study the right to freedom of expression, the right to non-discrimination and the right to effective remedies in order to build a comprehensive framework of checks and balances for human rights in the era of mass surveillance.


Prof. Eleni Kosta (b. 1979) was appointed as Professor of Technology Law and Human Rights on January 1st 2017 at the Tilburg Institute of Law, Technology and Society (TILT). She obtained her law degree at the University of Athens (Greece) in 2002 and a Master’s degree in Public Law at the same University in 2004. In 2005 she completed an LL.M. in legal informatics at the University of Hannover (Germany) and in 2011 she was awarded the title of Doctor of Laws at the KU Leuven (Belgium) with a thesis on consent in data protection that she conducted under the supervision of Prof. Em. Jos Dumortier. Her appointment is part of Tilburg University’s Philip Eijlander Diversity Program, designed to scout and attract extraordinary talented women in academia in order to create an inclusive work climate where quality prevails.

Note to editors

Professor Eleni Kosta will accept the Chair in Technology Law and Human Rights on December 15, 2017 at Tilburg University by delivering her inaugural address, entitled “Surveilling masses and unveiling human rights. Uneasy choices for the Strasbourg Court”. For more information and interview requests, please contact Eleni Kosta at 013 -466 4001/8199 or the press officers of Tilburg University at 013 – 466 4000 / persvoorlichters@tilburguniversity.edu.