Court rules against Britain over mass surveillance

UK mass surveillance broke human rights convention European court rules

UK mass surveillance broke human rights convention European court rules

The European Court of Human Rights also ruled 6-1 that the program was unlawful and did not provide adequate safeguards for privacy and "confidential journalistic material", with the potential to chill free speech for journalists.

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.

A group of human rights organisations including Big Brother Watch and Amnesty International brought the case to the court.

"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.

"While some activists may expect the court to outlaw all bulk interception, the court seems to say the principle is okay - it's the government's practice which was illegal".

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 ECHR decided the surveillance program violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to a private life and a family life - due to what the court regarded as "insufficient oversight" of the selection of collected communications.

"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.

The court said the system governing the bulk interception of communications was "incapable" of keeping interference to what is "necessary in a democratic society" for two reasons.

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

In its judgment, the court expressed particular concern over the ability of intelligence services to search and examine data that identifies senders and recipients of messages "apparently without restriction".

"The judgment also rightly recognises that collecting communications data - the who, what, and where of our communications - is as intrusive as collecting the content".

"In bulk, the degree of intrusion is magnified, since the patterns that will emerge could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person through the mapping of social networks, location tracking, internet browsing tracking, mapping of communication patterns, and insight into who a person interacted with".

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.

Ms Carlo, the Director of Big Brother Watch told talkRADIO's Matthew Wright: "GCHQ, which is a United Kingdom intelligence agency, have a programme called Karma Police that is effectively a catalogue of the web browsing histories of every visible user of the internet".

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'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. Following this concession, the High Court ordered the Government to amend the relevant provisions of the Act.

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