EU Court: British mass surveillance program violated human rights law

EU Court: British mass surveillance program violated human rights law

EU Court: British mass surveillance program violated human rights law

In an important victory, the European Court of Human Rights sided with us and ruled the UK's mass surveillance activities violate fundamental human rights.

'The Court also held, by six votes to one, that: the regime for obtaining communications data from communications service providers violated Article 8 as it was not in accordance with the law; and that both the bulk interception regime and the regime for obtaining communications data from communications service providers violated Article 10 of the Convention as there were insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material.

The court is not a European Union institution and is instead part of the Council of Europe, a 47-member state organisation based in Strasbourg, which Britain is not leaving after Brexit.

The court found that Britain's bulk interception regimes, as revealed by Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistleblower, were untargeted and lacked oversight and that safeguards were not "sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse". The challenge was instigated following the revelations from U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The court also criticised powers to ask internet companies to hand over "communications data" - the basic technical facts of how people have exchanged information.

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Because there was not enough independent oversight of the search and selection processes, there was a violation of the code.

In a landmark case brought by charities including Amnesty and human rights group Big Brother Watch, the top court ruled that the "bulk interception regime" breached rights to privacy (Article 8).

It said: "The content of an electronic communication might be encrypted and, even if it were decrypted, might not reveal anything of note about the sender or recipient".

In contrast, related communications data is capable "of painting an intimate picture of a person" through mapping social networks, location tracking and insight of who they interacted with.

"In light of today's judgment, it is even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the United Kingdom government is continuing to breach our right to privacy".

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A government spokeswoman said it would give "careful consideration" to the judgement - but added that new safeguards were already in place. Today, the Court has ruled the UK's surveillance illegal, despite arguments that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and its replacement the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA) made it legal.

Following the Snowden revelations, the rules were replaced in November 2016 by the Investigatory Powers Act, a new law that effectively puts mass surveillance powers on a statutory footing.

"This includes the introduction of a "double lock" which requires warrants for the use of these powers to be authorized by a Secretary of State and approved by a judge".

In a statement, Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo called the decision a "landmark ruling", while warning of the dangers posed by the incoming IPA.

"Our government has built a surveillance regime more extreme than that of any other democratic nation, abandoning the very rights and freedoms that terrorists want to attack".

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"We will push on with our High Court challenge against the Investigatory Powers Act and I'm sure we'll draw on the judgement of today to explain why it means that act is also unlawful", she added.

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