GCHQ's methods for mass snooping on online communications violated the right to privacy and the regime for collection of data was not in accordance with the law, the grand chamber of the European court of human rights has ruled.
It also found the bulk
interception regime contained insufficient protections for confidential journalistic material but said the decision to operate a bulk interception regime did not of itself violate the European convention on human rights. The chamber also concluded
that GCHQ's regime for sharing sensitive digital intelligence with foreign governments was not illegal.
The judgment is the culmination of a legal challenge to GCHQ's bulk interception of online communications begun in 2013 by Big Brother Watch and
others after Edward Snowden's whistleblowing revelations.
Three judges dissenting from the majority position quoted from Orwell in their statement:
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being
watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they
wanted to. You have to live -- did live, from habit that became instinct -- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.
Judgment on UK Govt's Mass Surveillance Program
24th May 2021. See article from openrightsgroup.org
Responding to the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the UK's RIPA regime for bulk surveillance, Jim Killock, the Executive Director of the Open Rights Group and one of the organisations challenging the UK's activities before the
European Court of Human Rights, said:
The Court has recognised that Bulk Interception is an especially intrusive power, and that 'end-to-end safeguards' are needed to ensure abuse does not occur.
The court has show that the UK Government's legal framework was weak and inadequate when we took them to court with Big Brother Watch and Constanze Kurz in 2013.
The court has set out clear criteria for
assessing future bulk interception regimes, but we believe these will need to be developed into harder red lines in future judgments, if bulk interception is not to be abused.
As the court sets out, bulk interception powers are a
great power, secretive in nature, and hard to keep in check. We are far from confident that today's bulk interception is sufficiently safeguarded, while the technical capacities continue to deepen. GCHQ continues to share technology platforms and raw
data with the USA.
This judgment is an important step on a long journey.