A group of humans rights and privacy campaigners and charities have come together to take the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights over mass surveillance practices.
Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International are legally challenging Whitehall based on documents revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden which revealed industrial scale mass surveillance practices.
“The UK government’s surveillance practices have been allowed to continue unabated and on an unprecedented scale, with major consequences for people’s privacy and freedom of expression,” claimed Amnesty International’s Legal Counsel Nick Williams.
“No one is above the law and the European Court of Human Rights now has a chance to make that clear,” Williams added.
Similarly, last week, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) – which has jurisdiction over the UK spying agencies – ruled that the UK legal regime for mass surveillance practices is compliant with human rights.
“Mass surveillance is a violation of our fundamental rights. Intercepting millions of communications every day and secretly receiving millions more from the NSA by the back door is neither necessary nor proportionate,” said Legal Director of Privacy International Carly Nyst.
“While the IPT sided with GCHQ and against the rights of millions of people, Europe’s highest human rights court has a strong history of ensuring intelligence agencies are compliant with human rights law.
“We hope that the Court continues this tradition and GCHQ is finally held accountable for its unfettered spying on the world’s communications,” Nyst added.
The three groups argue that UK domestic law that governs the UK intelligence agencies’ interception of communications, alongside its intelligence sharing practices with the USA, is in breach of the human rights to privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“It is thanks only to Edward Snowden’s revelations and the scant disclosures we and the other claimants have been able to prise from the government that we know anything whatsoever about what the intelligence services have been up to,” claimed Liberty Legal Director James Welch.
“The Tribunal believes that there are sufficient safeguards to protect us from industrial-scale abuse of our privacy. We disagree and hope the European Court will finally make clear to our security services that they cannot operate in near complete secrecy.
“The use of and access to surveillance by UK public bodies is regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Liberty believes this broad and confusing framework must be overhauled to ensure intrusions into personal privacy are all properly authorised and comply with human rights principles of necessity and proportionality,” Welch added.
GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, currently operates a programme known as TEMPORA and this give the government access to huge amounts of data on millions of people.
Amnesty International, Privacy International and Liberty are concerned about the secrecy surrounding this programme and changes that have been made that allow social media to be monitored due to a secret change of definitions.
By taking the case to the European Court, the organisations are hoping to see more transparency from the UK intelligence agencies and tighter, clearer laws about what they can and can’t do legally.