United Kingdom mass surveillance broke human rights convention, European court rules

United Kingdom mass surveillance broke human rights convention, European court rules

In a 6-1 vote Thursday, the seven-judge European Court of Human Rights ruled the "bulk interception regime" breached privacy and compromised journalists and their sources and violated parts of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A 6-1 vote also saw the court rule that the UK's regime for obtaining communications data from service providers "was not in accordance with the law", and the ECHR said there were "insufficient safeguards" for journalistic material in the United Kingdom government's policy.

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 Court's ruling isn't yet final: A Chamber judgement can be referred to the Grand Chamber any time within three months of its issuance, upon which a panel of five judges will decide whether the case merits further examination: If it does, it will be re-heard for a final judgement; if not, the Chamber judgement becomes final.

The court found that Britain's bulk interception regimes, as revealed by Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistleblower, were untargeted and lacked oversight and that safeguards were not "sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse".

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.

"In view of the potential chilling effect that any perceived interference with the confidentiality of journalists' communications and, in particular, their sources might have on the freedom of the press, the Court found that the bulk interception regime was also in violation of article 10". 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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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". "There must be a public interest which overrides the vital right to journalistic free speech before officials can scrutinise such material". The advocacy groups focused on the power granted by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which was replaced in 2016 by the Investigatory Powers Act in 2016, a bill that hasn't yet gone into effect. A government spokesperson told The Independent it "will give careful consideration to the Court's findings".

"This includes the introduction of a "double lock" which requires warrants for the use of these powers to be authorised by a secretary of state and approved by a judge".

"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.

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

Founders of the Bureau David and Elaine Potter backed the case.

"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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