Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

British mass surveillance program violated human rights law — EU Court

British mass surveillance program violated human rights law — EU Court

The organizations that brought the case are hailing the court's decision as a landmark ruling.

In 2016, Britain's Investigatory Powers Tribunal also ruled that intelligence agencies violated human rights through bulk collection and unsatisfactory oversight.

The judgement said the system revealed by Mr Snowden simply did not have any proper safeguards because it led to completely "untargeted" collection of information. Europe's human rights court is about to publish what could be a landmark ruling on the legality of mass surveillance.

The UK case, brought by civil liberties, human rights and journalism groups and campaigners, challenged British surveillance and intelligence-sharing practices revealed by Snowden.

The Guardian reported that the court found the the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had failed to put safeguards in place while surveilling the digital communications, violating Article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

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.

The court's decision does not prohibit governments from sharing information with other countries, because there was no evidence that part had been abused.

"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". The scope for unrestricted snooping "could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person" through mapping of social networks and communication patterns, browsing and location tracking, and understanding who a person is interacting with, the court said.

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The case centred on powers given to security services under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), which has since been replaced. It also found that both the method of bulk interception of communications and the process for obtaining communications metadata from service providers violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) because of "insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material".

But that argument doesn't convince critics of the Investigatory Powers Act - legislation which those opposed to it have previous labelled as "the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy".

Civil liberties groups are set to continuing fighting a number of cases related to surveillance and while rulings have gone against the government, nothing has changed; the Investigatory Powers Act is still the same as it was in 2016 and the government doesn't look to be in any rush to alter it, despite these losses.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said the ruling is vindication for Snowden.

But Jim Killock of Open Rights Group - one of the bodies behind the challenge - said: "Viewers of the BBC drama, Bodyguard, may be shocked to know that the United Kingdom actually has the most extreme surveillance powers in a democracy".

"The government will give careful consideration to the court's findings".

"We will push on with our High Court challenge against the Investigatory Powers Act and I'm sure we'll draw on the judgement of today to explain why it means that act is also unlawful", she added.

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