Amnesty International takes UK to European Court over mass surveillance
Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International have announced today they are taking the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights over its indiscriminate mass surveillance practices.
The legal challenge is based on documents made available by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden which revealed mass surveillance practices taking place on an industrial scale.
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. No-one is above the law and the European Court of Human Rights now has a chance to make that clear.
The organizations filed the joint application to the Strasbourg Court last week after the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which has jurisdiction over GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, ruled that the UK legal regime for the UK government’s mass surveillance practices was compliant with human rights.
During 12 months of litigation between the government and the NGOs significant flaws in the UK’s legal regime have been exposed. They include:
- Previously secret “arrangements” which allow the UK intelligence service to obtain access to bulk data from foreign intelligence agencies like the US National Security Agency without a warrant whenever it would “not be technically feasible” for the government’s agencies to obtain it themselves.
- UK law also allows for the intelligence services to obtain general warrants authorizing indiscriminate mass surveillance, approved by the Secretary of State and renewed on a rolling basis.
- The UK government considers it justifiable to engage in mass surveillance of every Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube user in the country, even if there is no suspicion that the user is involved in any offence, by secretly redefining the UK’s use of them as “external communications”
- The new legal action follows recent developments in the cases brought by Amnesty International and which represent critical setbacks to the UK government’s legal position:
- On 6 February, the IPT found that UK intelligence services acted unlawfully in accessing millions of people’s personal communications collected by the US National Security Agency. The decision was the first time ever that the IPT ruled against the UK intelligence and security services.
- On 18 February, the UK Government conceded that the regime governing the interception, obtaining and use of legally privileged material violates the Human Rights Act.