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GCHQ’s mass surveillance violates citizens’ right to privacy, ECHR rules

THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS (ECHR) has ruled that UK gov’s mass surveillance programmes breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a landmark 5-2 vote on Thursday, the ECHR on ruled there is “insufficient oversight” and “inadequate safeguards” over GCHQ’s ‘bulk interception’ of its own citizens’ records through its controversial Tempora programme, first outed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The mass spying scheme did “not meet the ‘quality of law’ requirement” and was “incapable of keeping the ‘interference’ to what is ‘necessary in a democratic society'”, the ECHR said.

A 6-1 vote also saw the court rule that the UK’s regime for obtaining communications data from service providers “was not in accordance with the law”, and the ECHR said there were “insufficient safeguards” for journalistic material in the UK government’s policy.

In its ruling, the EU 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.

“In view of the risk that a system of secret surveillance set up to protect national security may undermine or even destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it, the Court must be satisfied that there are adequate and effective guarantees against abuse,” the court added.

While not “illegal”, the scheme 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, the court said.

However, the ECHR ruled against the complainants on the question of whether UK gov further violated citizens’ privacy by sharing intelligence with foreign governments, saying that did not constitute a breach of rights.

The landmark ruling comes after human rights groups Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Open Rights Group and computer science expert Dr Constanze Kurz, launched legal action in 2013 following Snowden’s revelation of GCHQ mass spying through its Tempora, 

Documents outed by the NSA whistleblower revealed that GCHQ was conducting “population-scale” interception through the use of three programmes: Tempora, a bulk data store of all internet traffic; Karma Police a catalogue including ‘a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet’; and Black Hole, a repository of over one trillion events including internet histories, email and instant messenger records, search engine queries and social media activity.

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. 

“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.”

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, added: “In light of today’s judgment, it is even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the UK government is continuing to breach our right to privacy.” µ

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Source : Inquirer

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