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British Government Surveillance Violated European Convention On Human Rights, Court Rules

15 September, 2018, 14:22 | Author: Lucille Rivera
  • General view of the 24-hour operations room at GCHQ in Cheltenham England

Aspects of the policy, the court declared, breached two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - the right to private life (Article 8) and the right to free expression (Article 10).

The court also found that sharing intelligence with foreign governments - as GCHQ has done with the NSA for years - did not violate the law.

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. "In reaching this conclusion, the Court found that the operation of a bulk interception regime did not in and of itself violate the Convention", a spokesperson for the court said in a statement on the case, "but noted that such a regime had to respect criteria set down in its case-law".

The court's ruling doesn't mean all bulk data interception by European countries is automatically illegal.

"The same underlying problems still apply, and the IP Act has most of the same flaws - flaws found to breach fundamental rights", he told ZDNet.

But it said the "interference" needed to be limited to what is "necessary in a democratic society".

Communications data covers information such as who sent a message or made a phone call, when and where this happened - but not the content.

In contrast, related communications data is capable "of painting an intimate picture of a person" through mapping social networks, location tracking and insight of who they interacted with.

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In respect of the bulk interception regime, the Court expressed particular concern about the absence of any published safeguards relating both to the circumstances in which confidential journalistic material could be selected intentionally for examination, and to the protection of confidentiality where it had been selected, either intentionally or otherwise, for examination.

The Strasbourg, France-based court also held.

Today's ruling is the latest in a long line that have found against the government's former snooping law, which has since been superseded by the Investigatory Powers Act. The court also rejected any claims around GCHQ sharing the data with foreign intelligence agencies.

The ruling follows a protracted legal battle sparked by Edward Snowden's revelations about surveillance techniques used by U.S. and British security agencies in 2013.

That said access to retained data must only be granted for cases of serious crime, and that authorisation should come from an independent body, not public authorities.

The court ruled that bulk interception of data could in theory be legal, provided there are restrictions on what types of criminal offenses can lead to the wiretapping, how long data can be stored, how it can be used, and when it must be destroyed. Following this concession, the High Court ordered the Government to amend the relevant provisions of the Act.

The government has since proposed changes to the law that it says will bring it in line with the CJEU's decision - but campaigners are eyeing up fresh challenges.

The ruling "sends a strong message to the United Kingdom government that its use of extensive surveillance powers is abusive and runs against the very principles that it claims to be defending", Lucy Claridge, director of strategic litigation at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

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