Europe’s highest court of human rights has ruled Britain’s mass surveillance and intelligence-gathering practices violate human rights laws, in a partial victory for civil rights groups who challenged the practices exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights upheld a 2018 ruling by the lower chamber of the Court that certain aspects of UK surveillance activities violated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights aimed at to protect the right of Europeans to privacy.
The court’s 17 justices unanimously agreed that independent scrutiny of the processes used by UK intelligence services was not enough to sift through billions of calls, emails, texts and messages. other data and digital communications intercepted en masse, resulting in violations of the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
The court noted that while the UK had independent oversight and a judicial body set up to hear complaints from people whose communications had been intercepted, “these safeguards were not enough to make up for the shortcomings. regime, “according to a press summary of the judgment. .
The majority of judges, however, approved UK laws governing the sharing of intercepted electronic intelligence with foreign governments or intelligence agencies.
“Sufficient safeguards had been in place to protect against abuse and to ensure that UK authorities had not used requests for material from foreign intelligence partners” to circumvent UK laws, the court said .
Five judges disagreed on this point.
Judge Pinto de Albuquerque wrote that the decision did not go far enough and “just opened the doors to an electronic ‘Big Brother’ in Europe.”
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a UK privacy campaign group that spearheaded the legal challenge, said the ruling upholds Snowden’s 2013 revelations detailing government surveillance programs.
“Mass surveillance harms democracies under the guise of defending them, and we welcome the court’s recognition on this,” Carlo said, adding that the decision was also a “missed opportunity for the court to prescribe clearer limits and guarantees. “