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European Court Rules Against UK Mass Surveillance

A key part of the UK’s mass surveillance regime has been ruled illegal by a European court.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that bulk interception of communications data and the obtaining of data from comms service providers violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to respect for private and family life/communications.

They also contravened Article 10 in that there were “insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material.”

However, there are some rather large caveats to the judgement.

The court found that bulk interception doesn’t “in and of itself” violate human rights, just that the government didn’t have enough independent oversight in place to monitor “interception and the filtering, search and selection of intercepted communications for examination, and the safeguards governing the selection of ‘related communications data’.”

The court also found that sharing intelligence with foreign governments — as GCHQ has done with the NSA for years — did not violate the law.

Finally, this judgement only applies to the previous regime and not the new Investigatory Powers Act — although the latter is seen by many as even more controversial.

Also known as the 'Snoopers’ Charter' this surveillance legislation has already seen a major setback when in April the High Court told ministers to redraft the section requiring communications providers to retain phone records, location data, internet browsing history and info on everyone a user emails and texts for a year.

Although the judges again said that the bulk collection in itself wasn’t illegal, they ruled that the fact police, regulators and other bodies can then access this info without independent authorization and for reasons unrelated to investigating terrorism or serious crime, most definitely is.

The latest European court case was brought by Big Brother Watch, Amnesty and other human rights groups after revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013 on the mass collection of data on citizens, even if they are not suspected of a crime.

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