November 18, 2018

European Court Says UK Surveillance Violated Privacy Laws

15 September 2018, 02:22 | Darnell Patrick

Government's mass surveillance of emails was illegal | News

General view of the 24-hour operations room at GCHQ in Cheltenham England

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that some aspects of British surveillance regimes violated provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights that are meant to safeguard Europeans' rights to privacy.

Considering the issues of "bulk interception of communications, intelligence sharing and obtaining of communications data from communications service providers", the court found that GCHQ violated article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

The British surveillance program was first revealed by Edward Snowden, the former US defense contractor who leaked similar information about the National Security Agency in 2013.

The mass surveillance programmes, revealed by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, were deemed not to meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance in a democratic society.

'The Court has put down a marker that the United Kingdom government does not have a free hand with the public's communications and that in several key respects the UK's laws and surveillance practices have failed, ' adds Dan Carey, the solicitor representing the applicants in the case.

The ECHR noted that "safeguards were not sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse", and said it was particularly concerned that GCHQ can search and examine citizens' "related communications data" - such as location data and IP addresses - without restriction.

It ruled on the case after claims were brought by a coalition of 14 leading groups in the field of human rights and privacy including Amnesty International, Liberty, and Big Brother Watch.

In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ - the UK's eavesdropping agency - had been secretly collecting communications sent over the internet on an industrial scale.

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Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said the ruling "vindicates Mr. Snowden's courageous whistleblowing".

When it came to requests for data from communications service providers under Chapter II, the Court noted that the relevant safeguards only applied when the goal of such a request was to uncover the identity of a journalist's source.

However, the court ruled that GCHQ had not broken European human rights law by using data gathered by USA spies, as the safeguards around those procedures were sufficient.

Ruling on a case brought by a group of journalists and NGOs, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said the surveillance was a violation of the right to privacy and freedom of information enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The UK's mass surveillance program is in violation of human rights, the European Court of Human Rights has declared.

The court said individual countries "enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in choosing how best to achieve the legitimate aim of protecting national security" and that "the decision to operate a bulk interception regime in order to identify hitherto unknown threats to national security is one which continues to fall within states' margin of appreciation".

The case centred on complaints about powers given to security services under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which has since been replaced.

A government spokeswoman said it would give "careful consideration" to the judgement - but added that new safeguards were already in place.

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