The EU has been accused of secretly supporting surveillance schemes in Africa and the Balkans through development aid and cooperation programs.
Documents obtained by Privacy International (PI) and 11 other civil society organisations indicate that the EU has been helping to train and equip police and security agencies to spy on internet and social media users.
EU bodies are providing border and migration authorities in non-member countries with surveillance tools, including wiretapping systems and other phone surveillance products, in a bid to 'outsource' the EU's border controls, says PI.
Meanwhile, French security firm Civipol is using EU aid funds to develop mass biometric systems in Western Africa in order to stop migration and facilitate deportations.
"Today's revelations confirm our worst fears about the diversion and securitisation of EU aid,"says Edin Omanovic, advocacy director of Privacy International.
"Instead of helping people who face daily threats from unaccountable surveillance agencies, including activists, journalists, and people just looking for better lives, this 'aid' risks doing the very opposite."
Wiretapping and biometrics
In Niger, say the campaigners, €11.5 million was allocated from the EU Trust Fund for Africa - a funding programme for migration control - for the provision of surveillance drones, surveillance cameras, surveillance software, a wiretapping centre and an international mobile subscriber identity catcher.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a wiretapping system was provided to the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), and biometric registration equipment and databases have been given to authorities for border and migration control.
In Libya, a program led by the Italian government but financed by the EU Trust Fund for Africa, taught participants how to secure 'evidence for prosecution and intelligence purposes’.
These lessons included securing evidence from electronic devices, as well as acquiring fingerprints, including from 'children and people with vulnerabilities'.
Meanwhile, says PI, the EU has been training authorities in the Balkans, Middle East and Northern Africa in phone and internet surveillance techniques, including the creation of 'sock puppet' accounts and the use of malware or trojans.
Aid funds have also been used to build mass-scale and high-risk biometric identification systems to manage migration flows to Europe and facilitate deportations, with security firms such as Civpol winning lucrative contracts as a result.
Call for change
The campaigners have written to the European Commission, calling on it and member states to stop supporting surveillance schemes in countries lacking appropriate legal safeguards. They want the European Parliament to have greater scrutiny of how funds are being spent, and for a new fund to be created aimed at improving governance and legal frameworks in non-EU countries around privacy and data protection.
"A secure and prosperous Europe only exists within a secure and prosperous neighbourhood underpinned by respect for people's rights. The EU as the world's largest provider of aid and a powerful force for change must enact urgent reforms to these secretive and unacceptable programmes."Edin Omanovic
"Failure to do so is a betrayal not just of the purpose of aid and the people it's supposed to benefit, but of the EU's own values."