United Kingdom mass surveillance broke human rights convention, European court rules

Edward Snowden leaked information about intelligence programmes

The organizations that brought the case are hailing the court's decision as a landmark ruling.

Britain's programme of mass surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his sensational leaks on U.S. spying, violated people's right to privacy, Europe's top rights court ruled Thursday.

"First, the lack of oversight of the entire selection process, including the selection of bearers for interception, the selectors and search criteria for filtering intercepted communications, and the selection of material for examination by an analyst".

'While the Court was satisfied that the intelligence services of the United Kingdom take their (European human rights) Convention obligations seriously and are not abusing their powers, it found that there was inadequate independent oversight of the selection and search processes involved in the operation, ' the court said in a statement.

The case was brought to the ECHR in 2013, following Edward Snowden's revelations that GCHQ was secretly collecting, storing and analysing the private communications of millions of British citizens.

The court also criticised powers to ask internet companies to hand over "communications data" - the basic technical facts of how people have exchanged information. The scope for unrestricted snooping "could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person" through mapping of social networks and communication patterns, browsing and location tracking, and understanding who a person is interacting with, the court said.

Is this system still in force?

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It noted that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which was the subject of the challenge, had been replaced by new legislation in 2016.


In an extensive condemnation of UK's protection of human rights, the judges also deemed there to be "insufficient safeguards" for journalistic sources under government's surveillance policy.

The British government said it would give "careful consideration" to the court's findings.

Silkie Carlo, of Big Brother Watch, added: "This landmark judgment confirming that the UK's mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr Snowden's courageous whistleblowing".

"This includes the introduction of a "double lock" which requires warrants for the use of these powers to be authorised by a Secretary of State and approved by a judge", the government said in a statement.

However, the Investigatory Powers Act is also being challenged, based on a 2016 judgment from the Court of Justice of the European Union that ruled indiscriminate data retention illegal.

"Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the United Kingdom has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public".

Founders of the Bureau David and Elaine Potter backed the case.

"That should come as a relief - not only to the agencies who do this work, but the rest of us who they are trying to keep safe", he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One. "Holding the powerful to account is the most important duty of a free press", they said.

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