European court rules against Britain over mass surveillance

UK intelligence programme exposed by Snowden breached right to privacy, Strasbourg judges rule

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Thursday that British intelligence’s mass surveillance of private communications online is illegal. In a landmark ruling judges voted six to one the effort by its intelligence agency GCHQ for obtaining data from communications providers was "not in accordance with the law", and there were "insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material". They also voted by five to two the mass trawling for information violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing the right to privacy. 

According to the Strasbourg court British intelligence agencies’ interception regime violated the right to a private and family life, since there was “insufficient oversight” over which communications were chosen for examination.
The ECHR, however, ruled that the processes used to share the intelligence with foreign governments was not in violation of privacy or human rights standards. The ruling, nevertheless, still marks the first major legal blow to U.K. intelligence’s bulk interception and surveillance of private messages.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden first disclosed the practice in 2013, revealing that Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had been intercepting and holding onto data about the private communications of millions of people after the September 11, 2001. Thousands of classified documents leaked by him proved Britain spied on foreign politicians at G20 summit meetings in London in 2009, and collected huge quantities of global email messages, Facebook posts, and internet histories and calls, which it shared with the NSA.

As a result, a group of 14 human rights organisations, journalists and privacy groups had told the court that the practices were in violation of human rights.

Snowden on Thursday tweeted that the judgement was a victory.

"For five long years, governments have denied that global mass surveillance violates of your rights. And for five long years, we have chased them through the doors of every court. Today, we won. Don't thank me: thank all of those who never stopped fighting."

Still, the verdict is not final and can be appealed.

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