By Ben Kerrigan-
The UK government’s mass surveillance programme violated human rights and had “no real safeguards”, according to the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) has said in a landmark ruling.
The landmark Strasbourg court said British intelligence agencies’ interception regime violated the right to a private and family life, since there was “insufficient oversight” over which communications were chosen for examination .According to the court, the spies were able to discover too much about people’s habits and contacts, by examining their online activities. The ruling also condemned British intelligence agency programme for not providing enough protection to journalistic sources, in the process violating the right to freedom of expression, it also said. The programme had an illegally chilling effect on the free press by monitoring journalists’ communication.
However, the court ruled that sharing the information with foreign governments did not violate either the right to a private and family life, or to free speech.The case, brought by a group of charities including human rights groups Big Brother Watch and Amnesty International, centered on complaints about powers given to security services under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 . The revelations where initially sparked by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden had not sufficiently reined in the U.K.’s GCHQ intelligence agency.
Snowden showed that GCHQ routinely intercepts, stores and analyzes enormous quantities of Internet traffic—something it’s able to do because so many global Internet cables cross the U.K. He was also able to provide evidence of massive data-sharing between the British and American signals intelligence agencies.The sp infringement on people’s privacy rights was without oversight or safeguards regarding the process of data selection for surveillance. Confidential journalistic material was also not protected, somewhat discrediting the professionalism of the British intelligence agencies
It is the first major challenge to the legality of the UK’s bulk collection of communications and follows revelations that both the U.S and British governments were gathering communications on a “population-level”.
Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistle blower Edward Snowden is still living in exile in Russia after leaking the information.Although the UK government replaced the contested Ripa powers with the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) in November 2016, campaigners said the judgment would provoke questions about the spying capabilities granted by the more recent legislation.
A Government spokesperson said the IPA provided better privacy protections than Ripa, but it would give “careful consideration” to the European court’s findings.
Silkie Carlo, director of the Big Brother Watch, said: “This landmark judgment confirming that the UK’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.
She continued: “Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public.
“This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion. However, since the new Investigatory Powers Act arguably poses an ever greater threat to civil liberties, our work is far from over.”
Megan Goulding, a lawyer for Liberty, said: “This is a major victory for the rights and freedom of people in the UK. It shows that there is – and should be – a limit to the extent that states can spy on their citizens.
“Police and intelligence agencies need covert surveillance powers to tackle the threats we face today – but the court has ruled that those threats do not justify spying on every citizen without adequate protections.”