September 20, 2018

Government's mass surveillance of emails was illegal

14 September 2018, 05:11 | Glen Norman

The case against the UK was brought by a group of journalists and rights activists

The case against the UK was brought by a group of journalists and rights activists

A previous judgement from a 2016 United Kingdom tribunal also found British intelligence agencies GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 broke privacy rules by amassing large amounts of United Kingdom citizens' data without proper oversight.

However, the court said the sharing of information with foreign government was not in breach of the rules.

What were the powers being challenged in court?


Adrian PingstoneWhen Edward Snowden revealed that the government was secretly collecting and storing mass amounts of our private communications data, he wasn't just talking about the United States government.

It could reassemble the communications, filter them and then analyse the remainder for anything useful to protecting national security.

It determined that the regime covering how the spy agency obtained data from internet and phone companies was "not in accordance with the law".

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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.

What did the court say?


Judges sitting in Strasbourg, France, said GCHQ's bulk interception of online communications was untargeted and criticized spy bosses for failing to provide sufficient safeguards when handling people's personal data.

The British surveillance program was first revealed by Edward Snowden, the former USA defense contractor who leaked similar information about the National Security Agency in 2013.

They wrote: "In view of the potential chilling effect that any perceived interference with the confidentiality of journalists' communications and, in particular, their sources might have on the freedom of the press, the Court found that the bulk interception regime was also in violation of article 10".

By related communications, the court said it meant the collection of details like who calls who, from where and when - rather than the content of the communications.

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In contrast, related communications data is capable "of painting an intimate picture of a person" through mapping social networks, location tracking and insight of who they interacted with.

Is this system still in force?

. "However, since the new Investigatory Powers Act arguably poses an ever greater threat to civil liberties, our work is far from over". "The government will give careful consideration to the court's findings", said a Home Office spokesperson.

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.

"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. There must be a public interest which overrides the vital right to journalistic free speech before officials can scrutinise such material".

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said in a statement.

Lord David Anderson QC, the former independent terror laws watchdog, said that judgement was "enormously important" because the court had backed the use of bulk interception powers that had so anxious Edward Snowden. "But they're reluctant to change because it's the way they've been working for years".

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"That really doesn't hold much water", said Paul Bernal, Lecturer in Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law in the UEA School of Law in response to the government claim that the new regime solves the problems of the old one.

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