Top European Court Rules UK Mass Surveillance Regime Violates Human Rights

Edward Snowden leaked information about intelligence programmes

Image Edward Snowden leaked information about intelligence programmes

Civil rights groups applauded a European court's ruling against the U.K.'s "Snooper's Charter", its mass surveillance program put in place after September 11, 2001, with a 5-2 vote stating that the country's spying practices were a violation of human rights-and called on other governments to end their own surveillance programs.

Such failings meant section 8 (4) did not meet the "quality of law" requirement of the Convention and could not keep any interference to that which was "necessary in a democratic society".

Its ruling said the regime covering acquisition of data from communications service providers breached Article 8 as it was not in accordance with the law.

The Court found that sharing intelligence information gathered from bulk surveillance-as GCHQ does with the NSA and other members of the "Five Eyes" intelligence and security alliance-does not violate the human rights charter.

The landmark court case was a partial victory for advocates, including Amnesty International, Big Brother Watch, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and 10 human rights charities.

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Documents outed by the NSA whistleblower revealed that GCHQ was conducting "population-scale" interception through the use of three programmes: Tempora, a bulk data store of all internet traffic; Karma Police a catalogue including "a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet"; and Black Hole, a repository of over one trillion events including internet histories, email and instant messenger records, search engine queries and social media activity. Today, we won, "he said in a Tweet".

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 objective of such a request was to uncover the identity of a journalist's source.

The European court, however, specified that all bulk-interception programmes do not necessarily violate the Convention on Human Rights, but that the plans must follow certain criteria laid out in European case law.

"Under the guise of counterterrorism, the United Kingdom has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state", said Carlo.

However, the Investigatory Powers Act is also being challenged, based on a 2016 judgment from the Court of Justice of the European Union that ruled indiscriminate data retention illegal.

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While the court's ruling applied to surveillance regimes set down by the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000-not the new Investigatory Powers Act passed in 2016, which has not yet come into full effect-some of the provisions ruled to be in violation of the charter remain in the new law.

"We believe that they can and they must provide us with a targeted surveillance regime rather than a bulk regime that has adequate safeguards to protect our rights - that's very possible for them to do", said Goulding.

The Court further observed that there was no evidence of any significant shortcomings in the application and operation of the regime, or indeed evidence of any abuse.

The Government said it would give "careful consideration" to the court's findings.

Although the case considered procedures governing bulk cable-tapping that are no longer in force - since replaced by the Investigatory Powers Act - campaigners have hailed it as a further nail in the coffin of state surveillance.

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