Govt mass surveillance violated human rights, European Court rules

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

Government's mass surveillance of emails was illegal | News

"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".

The court found that operating a bulk interception regime did not of itself violate the European Convention on Human Rights but that any such regime must contain adequate safeguards against abuse.

Campaigners argued that these collection systems violated the right to privacy - and on Thursday the European Court of Human Rights agreed.

However, the ECHR ruled against the complainants on the question of whether United Kingdom gov further violated citizens' privacy by sharing intelligence with foreign governments, saying that did not constitute a breach of rights.

"While some activists may expect the court to outlaw all bulk interception, the court seems to say the principle is okay - it's the government's practice which was illegal".

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

Rosa Curling of law firm Leigh Day, who represented TBIJ at the court, said: "Today's ECHR judgment should put an end to our security services and police forces using the mass surveillance of communications to identify journalists' sources".

"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", said Dan Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, which acted for some of the parties.

"First, the lack of oversight of the entire selection process, including the selection of bearers for interception, the selectors and search criteria for filtering intercepted communications, and the selection of material for examination by an analyst".

On the second point, the court noted particular concern about the way in which the government could search and examine this related data - the who, when and where of a communication - "apparently without restriction".

In a further victory for the 16 complainants the court ruled that the programme also provided "insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material", violating Article 10 of the European convention, which protects freedom of expression and information.

But the ruling wasn't all bad for British spies.

In its ruling, the European Union court noted that "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.

Three applications were joined together, from Big Brother Watch, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and 10 human rights charities, and were lodged after Mr Snowden's revelations.

The British government's counsel, James Eadie, said at that time the programmes were necessary in the fight against terrorism.

"This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion".

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