Edward Snowden surveillance powers ruled unlawful

Sergio Conner
September 14, 2018

Snowden on Thursday tweeted that the judgement was a victory.

But it dismissed claims that Britain further violated the privacy of those on whom it snooped by sharing intelligence with foreign governments.

In their ruling, judges declared there was insufficient monitoring of what information was being collected and that some safeguards were "inadequate".

The case, brought by a number of human rights and journalism organisations, is one of many challenges launched after the U.S. whistleblower, former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations that GCHQ was secretly intercepting communications traffic via fibre-optic undersea cables.

The Guardian reported that the court found the the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had failed to put safeguards in place while surveilling the digital communications, violating Article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

Liberty joined with the ACLU, Amnesty International, Privacy International, and 13 other organizations to challenge the Snooper's Charter, officially known as the Investigatory Powers Act, after former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the United Kingdom was obtaining and storing massive amounts of data about communications throughout the country.

The European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, eastern France, did not question the existence of the spying program in itself but said a lack of oversight and safeguards meant it undermined rights to privacy and free expression. However, the ruling did find that individuals' privacy rights applied from the moment communications and data were captured by surveillance systems-not just when they were viewed or processed by human analysts.

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Gavin Millar QC, also counsel for TBIJ, said: "The government must now rewrite the law as to how the security and intelligence service can look at and use journalists confidential communications and material".

The suit was brought by Big Brother Watch, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a number of other civil liberties organizations from Europe and North America, as well as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and others.

On the second point, the court noted particular concern about the way in which the government could search and examine this related data - the who, when and where of a communication - "apparently without restriction". "The government will give careful consideration to the court's findings", said a Home Office spokesperson.

Commenting on the ECHR's ruling, Silkie Carlo, director of 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".

But that argument doesn't convince critics of the Investigatory Powers Act - legislation which those opposed to it have previous labelled as "the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy".

The case centred on powers given to security services under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), which has since been replaced. The court also didn't consider the UK's current surveillance activities or changes being introduced under the Investigatory Powers Act, which according to Carlo "poses on an even greater threat to civil liberties".

"An Investigatory Powers Commissioner has also been created to ensure robust independent oversight of how these powers are used".

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