European court rules against Britain over mass surveillance

Evarado Alatorre
Setiembre 14, 2018

BRUSSELS-British intelligence services breached people's basic right to privacy with a mass surveillance operation that was brought to light by the whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on September 13. "It continued: "[the ruling] permits national governments a "wide margin of appreciation" in deciding whether to engage in bulk interception and greenlights vast intelligence sharing with the US National Security Agency (NSA)".

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 judgement is not final, as it can be appealed to the grand chamber of the Strasbourg court.

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.

Gavin Millar QC, also counsel for TBIJ, said: "The government must now rewrite the law as to how the security and intelligence service can look at and use journalists confidential communications and material". "Of greatest concern.is the absence of robust independent oversight of the selectors and search criteria used to filter intercepted communications".

By related communications, the court said it meant the collection of details like who calls who, from where and when - rather than the content of the communications.

The ECHR decided the surveillance programme violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights-the right to a private life and a family life-due to what the court regarded as "insufficient oversight" of the selection of collected communications.

"The related communications data, on the other hand, could reveal the identities and geographic location of the sender and recipient and the equipment through which the communication was transmitted".

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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.

"Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the United Kingdom has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the right of the British public", Carlo said in a statement.

"This is a major victory for the rights and freedom of people in the UK". 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.

"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".

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said in a statement.

The spokesperson added that an investigatory powers commissioner has also been created to provide oversight of how surveillance is used.

Lord David Anderson QC, the former independent terror laws watchdog, said that judgement was "enormously important" because the court had backed the use of bulk interception powers that had so anxious Edward Snowden.

"That really doesn't hold much water", said Paul Bernal, Lecturer in Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law in the UEA School of Law in response to the government claim that the new regime solves the problems of the old one.

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