ECtHR: Britain’s mass surveillance violated human rights

Spread the love

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that mass surveillance by intelligence services in Britain was partly in violation of human rights such as the right to privacy. Mass surveillance is allowed, but is subject to conditions.

The case was brought by journalists and civil rights groups. They oppose three points: collecting data in bulk, sharing information with foreign intelligence services and obtaining communication data through providers. These practices were brought to light by Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 about the workings of the US intelligence agency NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ.

According to the ruling, obtaining the data through backdoors from providers was not legal and therefore in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That article defines the right to respect for private situations in family and family life. The collection of data in bulk in itself, or mass surveillance, was not in conflict with the law, according to the Court. Nevertheless, the British intelligence service has also violated Article 8 on this point, the human rights court concludes, because there was insufficient supervision of the selections made when collecting data.

The British intelligence service has also violated Article 10, the right to freedom of expression, both by collecting data in bulk and by obtaining communication data from providers. This is because there were too few safeguards for dealing with confidential journalistic material. According to the ruling, sharing information with foreign intelligence services does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a document with questions and answers, the Court examines the question of whether the United Kingdom should now adjust its working method when it comes to gathering information. An answer cannot be given because the verdict was made on the basis of the law in effect at the time of the events. That was the Investigatory Powers Act of the year 2000. A new version of that law was passed in 2016, but it is not yet fully enacted. The new law provides intelligence services with more powers. The Court’s ruling is binding on a state concerned and may lead to a change in the law, which is not the issue here. The plaintiffs also did not seek compensation.

The current ruling was handed down by the second highest court of the European Court of Human Rights. Both parties can still appeal. In ‘high exception’ such an appeal is honoured.

You might also like