Judges rule that United Kingdom mass surveillance violated human rights

Lester Mason
September 14, 2018

Britain's programme of mass surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his sensational leaks on United States spying, violated people's right to privacy, Europe's top rights court ruled Thursday.

Following the revelations, a group of 14 privacy and human rights groups headed by nonprofit Big Brother Watch brought claims against GCHQ, which were heard first in the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal - a special court set up specifically to hold intelligence agencies to account - and later in the European Court of Human Rights. The court also didn't consider the UK's current surveillance activities or changes being introduced under the Investigatory Powers Act, which according to Carlo "poses on an even greater threat to civil liberties".

In an extensive condemnation of UK's protection of human rights, the judges also deemed there to be "insufficient safeguards" for journalistic sources under government's surveillance policy.

The agency could also obtain data and content from its USA partners and companies including Apple, Google and Facebook.

The court said this violated the right to privacy under the European convention - as did the way in which GCHQ obtained communications data from service providers.

"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".

It did, however, rule that there had been a violation of Article 10, the right to freedom of expression for two of the parties, as there were insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalist material.

The ECHR, however, diverged from the applicants over the issue of sharing intel with foreign governments, ruling that it did not violate either the right to a private and family life, or to free speech.


"The courts decided today that a free and democratic nation like the United Kingdom can't just spy on all of its citizens without adequate protection and that you have to respect citizens' rights to privacy and freedom of expression", she added.

The case was brought to the ECHR in 2013, following Edward Snowden's revelations that GCHQ was secretly collecting, storing and analysing the private communications of millions of British citizens.

"That should come as a relief - not only to the agencies who do this work, but the rest of us who they are trying to keep safe", he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

Among the more than one dozen groups that took the case to Strasbourg were the London-based Big Brother Watch organisation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and former Guardian reporter Alice Ross.

GCHQ, short for Government Communication Headquarters, continues to publicly neither confirm not deny the existence of programs with these codenames.

"Such data enables intrusion into the most intimate aspects of a person's daily life", Dinah Rose, one of the applicants' lawyers, told the court in hearings previous year.

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

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.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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