World

Britain’s mass web-spying faulted by European rights court

Britain’s mass web-spying faulted by European rights court

In what's being hailed as major decision by civil liberty and privacy groups, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that United Kingdom government's massive surveillance and data collection schemes was a breach of human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights said spies broke the right to privacy and ignored surveillance safeguards when they carried out the data harvesting and intercepted private online conversations in bulk.

The GCHQ programme was revealed by American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) operative, as part of his sensational leaks on U.S. spying.

But it said such programmes require sufficient oversight to keep the surveillance to what is "necessary in a democratic society".

It noted that European Union law required that any regime allowing access to data held by communications service providers had to be limited to the objective of combating "serious crime", and that access be subject to prior review by a court or independent administrative body. The judges also found that there were insufficient safeguards put in place to govern access to communications data.

The Court found that sharing intelligence information gathered from bulk surveillance-as GCHQ does with the NSA and other members of the "Five Eyes" intelligence and security alliance-does not violate the human rights charter.

"This landmark judgment confirming that the U.K.'s mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr. Snowden's courageous whistleblowing and the tireless work of Big Brother Watch and others in our pursuit for justice", said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, which participated in the case.




In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ - the UK's eavesdropping agency - had been secretly collecting communications sent over the internet on an industrial scale. Today, we won, "he said in a Tweet".

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.

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 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.

"We believe that they can and they must provide us with a targeted surveillance regime rather than a bulk regime that has adequate safeguards to protect our rights - that's very possible for them to do", said Goulding. However, that new law-the Investigatory Powers Act-is already being revised after the country's high court ruled it broke European human rights rules.

Judges on the case did not agree with the applicants over issues of sharing the information with foreign governments, ruling there was no evidence of abuse or significant shortcomings.

The court said Thursday that GCHQ's mass surveillance scheme was not intrinsically illegal, but its design broke two crucial elements of the European Convention on Human Rights: Article 8, the part that guarantees privacy; and Article 10, which guarantees freedom of expression. A government spokesperson told The Independent it "will give careful consideration to the Court's findings".