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Greek Court Deems Surveillance Powers Unconstitutional

Court Demands Stricter Safeguards on State Monitoring

The Council of State of Greece building in Athens, July 14, 2015. © 2015 C messier

Greece’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, has declared unconstitutional a 2021 amendment that barred the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), an independent body which oversees surveillance powers, from informing citizens of state surveillance on “national security” grounds.

Until March 2021, those under government surveillance could request information from ADAE about surveillance on them after the surveillance ended, provided disclosure didn’t jeopardize investigations. A March 2021 government-proposed change adopted by parliament removed the ability of ADAE to notify those surveilled, even after surveillance stopped.

The April 5 ruling found this change violated the Greek Constitution, the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. This marks a major victory in Greece’s ongoing surveillance scandal which included revelations that the government surveilled independent journalists, business people, government officials, and opposition leader Nikos Androulakis.

Androulakis brought the landmark case after he discovered in 2022 the National Intelligence Service wiretapped his phone. In September 2022, his ADAE file request was denied based on the 2021 amendment. On April 8, following the Council of State’s decision, Androulakis again requested information from ADAE about his surveillance. The ruling should enable Androulakis and other targets of state surveillance falling under the March 2021 amendment to access information on their cases.

The Council of State found the blanket prohibition on informing individuals about their surveillance an “excessive restriction” on the right to privacy and a threat to the rule of law.

While the ruling doesn’t extend to a separate December 2022 law restricting ADAE’s powers, it’s a significant step. While the 2022 law is more permissive than its predecessor it still contains flaws. Greece’s government should listen to the court and enact reforms that fully guarantee the right to privacy and access to information for its citizens.

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