Strasbourg (France): The Council of Europe has proposed introducing export controls of surveillance technology to protect citizens from abusive online snooping after a whistleblower revealed a US spy programme that sparked a fierce debate on privacy.
Saying increasingly sophisticated surveillance technologies can have a "chilling effect" on people`s participation in social, cultural and political activities, the group on Tuesday also warned they "could have damaging effects on democracy."
"More generally, they can endanger the exercise of freedom of expression," it said.
The warning from the Council of Europe, a pan-European body that is separate from the European Union, comes as the EU and the United States discuss a possible free trade deal.
The Council of Europe encouraged its 47 members "to bear these risks in mind in their bilateral discussions with third countries".
To help protect citizens from illegal access to their private lives, it said, members should "consider the introduction of suitable export controls to prevent the misuse of technology."
The proposal comes after the Guardian and Washington Post last week published leaked information from 29-year-old Intelligence Technician Edward Snowden that revealed the existence of a top-secret programme at the US National Security Agency to collect and analyse data from Internet users around the world.
Although US intelligence Chiefs insist the sweep has saved American lives by helping agents thwart terror plots, many have been outraged by the breadth and secrecy of the operation.
On Monday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder demanding answers about the programme, warning of "grave adverse consequences" for the rights of foreign nationals.
She also said his answers could affect the transatlantic relationship.