EU court finds some British surveillance violated human rights

General view of the 24-hour operations room at GCHQ in Cheltenham England

Human rights groups and journalists scored a victory against the British government's mass electronic surveillance system on Thursday after Europe's top rights court ruled that the so-called Big Brother programme violated privacy and free speech.

While there is no evidence to suggest that the intelligence services are abusing their powers - on the contrary, the interception of communications commissioner observed that the selection procedure was carefully and conscientiously undertaken by analysts -, the Court is not persuaded that the safeguards governing the selection of bearers for interception and the selection of intercepted material for examination are sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that bulk interception of communications data and the obtaining of data from comms service providers violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to respect for private and family life/communications.

The European court, however, specified that all bulk-interception programmes do not necessarily violate the Convention on Human Rights, but that the plans must follow certain criteria laid out in European case law.

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.

ยท The interception of communications data is as serious a breach of privacy as the interception of content and therefore the United Kingdom regime for bulk interception of communications data was unlawful as it did not strike a fair balance (para 357).

Because there was not enough independent oversight of the search and selection processes, there was a violation of the code.

The UK's mass surveillance program is in violation of human rights, the European Court of Human Rights has declared.

Britain broke human rights law when the GCHQ intelligence agency carried out the mass snooping operation that was exposed by Edward Snowden, a European court has ruled.

Snowden also revealed that the Government was accessing communications and data collected by the USA's National Security Agency and other countries' intelligence agencies. Today, we won, "he said in a Tweet".

They took the move after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed mass surveillance by GCHQ and other agencies in 2013.

Judges voted six to one the effort by its intelligence agency GCHQ for obtaining data from communications providers was "not in accordance with the law", and there were "insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material".

The groups pursued the case because they believe they were targeted for government surveillance.

Big Brother Watch, which was among a number of organisations that lodged complaints, claimed it was a "landmark judgment".

"This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion".

"The government 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 authorized by a Secretary of State and approved by a judge".

The ECtHR found that similar faults to those found by the High Court in relation to part four of the Investigatory Powers Act were also present in RIPA.

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