Former UK rules governing the interception of communications and for obtaining data from telecoms operators breached human rights, the European Court of Human Rights ruled this morning in a decision likely to stoke government hostility to the Strasbourg court.
Ruling in Big Brother Watch and Others v The United Kingdom, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found:
- Unanimously that the UK’s 'bulk intercept' regime, under which the security agencies can obtain warrants for mass interceptions of communications, had violated article 8 of the ECHR.
- Unanimously that the regime for obtaining data from communication service providers had breached article 8.
- By 12 votes to five, that there had been no violation of Article 8 in respect of the UK’s regime for requesting intercepted material from foreign governments and intelligence agencies;
- Unanimously, that there had been a violation of article 10 (freedom of expression), concerning both the bulk interception regime and the regime for obtaining communications data from communication service providers; and
- By 12 votes to five, that there had been no violation of Article 10 in respect of the regime for requesting intercepted material from foreign Governments and intelligence agencies.
- The case was brought by pressure groups Big Brother Watch and Privacy International together with news media over powers conferred by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, since replaced by the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Today’s ruling is the latest in several following applications made between 2013 and 2015.
- Ilia Siatitsa, acting legal director at Privacy International said: 'Today’s ruling is an important win for privacy and freedom for everyone in the UK and beyond.The judgment offers some pieces of the puzzle for stronger protections in the future, but it is not the end. We will continue to fight against abusive mass surveillance powers.'
- Daniel Carey, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn
- who acted for Big Brother Watch, said: 'Today’s judgment is the culmination of eight years of litigation and sets the ECHR standards by which bulk interception surveillance regimes are to be judged. By requiring “end to end safeguards” all aspects of these programmes are ultimately subject to judicial oversight. That is an important win for the rule of law now that our lives are increasingly led online.'