The UK's mass wiretapping was found illegal, 8 years after Edward Snowden's revelations

The UK's mass wiretapping was found illegal, 8 years after Edward Snowden's revelations

The UK's mass wiretapping was found illegal

The European Court of Human Rights has branded the mass surveillance of the spy agency Gchq as illegal, unveiled by the former Nsa contractor

(photo: Ernesto Ruscio / Zoe Vincenti) Eight years after revelations by Edward Snowden, the former contractor of the American National Security Agency (NSA) who became a whistleblower, on May 25 came the awaited ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which established that the mass interceptions operated by Gchq, the UK spy agency, were illegal. The lawsuit, initiated by the British NGO Big Brother Watch, which was joined by fifteen other organizations such as Privacy international, Liberty and Amnesty international, saw with this ruling recognizing the violation of articles 8 and 10 of the European Charter of human rights which protect privacy and freedom of expression.

This quotes one of the judges at the European Court of Human Rights today. It is hard to overemphasize how far we've come from the pre-2013 world when even the highest judicial authorities are beginning to acknowledge the devastating consequence of two decades' mass surveillance:

- Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 25, 2021

As recalled by Big Brother Watch, in 2013 Edward Snowden reveals the existence of several mass espionage programs: Tempora, an archive of all online traffic; Karma Police, a catalog that includes a "web browsing profile for each user visible on the internet"; Black Hole, a repository of over 1 trillion events including email and chat recordings, search engine queries and social media activity.

In addition to the information of its citizens, however, the United Kingdom exchanges data and wiretapping with the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, the so-called Five Eyes. Thanks to this agreement, the secret services of the various agencies can exchange all the information and data that pass through their backbones, or the cables where data materially travels from one continent to another. In this way, each of these countries, in order to have access to the data of other citizens, gives up control over the data of their own.

cable data by Greg Mahlknecht, map by Openstreetmap contributors [CC BY-SA 2.0]

A long judicial battle

Before bringing these facts to the Court called to enforce the European Charter of human rights in 1950, NGOs turned to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the court that examines appeals against security agencies. In the trial, the court declares the information exchange agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States illegal as secret but does not declare the agreement or the mass wiretapping illegitimate in principle.

Not satisfied with the ruling of the court, in 2015 the organizations brought the case before the first section of the ECHR, which in September 2018 pronounced itself recognizing how the lack of appropriate safeguards made those interceptions illegitimate. However Big Brother Watch and the other organizations, still not satisfied with the sentence, which would not have been appealable, ask that the Grand Chamber also rule on the case, which, composed of 17 judges, is called to judge only those cases considered of extreme importance.

Grand Chamber judgment Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom - UK surveillance regime: some aspects contrary to the Convention #ECHR #CEDH #ECHRpress

- ECHR CEDH (@ECHR_CEDH) May 25, 2021

As reported by Privacy international, this new ruling of the Court goes beyond that of 2018. While not completely denying the possibility of carrying out mass wiretapping, it has requested that these be approved by a third and independent subject by the government, as a judge, and that the authorization is precise, rigorous and checks that there are real safeguards for citizens.

The Court acknowledged that the interceptions operated by the British intelligence agency Gchq were not subject to any mandate that came from an authority independent of the government. And that there were no specific search terms or prior authorization for research in the communications of a specific individual. In a nutshell, the Gchq agency could search for any information on anyone, without search limits and without the mandate of a third-party judge who assessed the investigative needs and the validity of the need for an interception.

If on the one hand the effect is that this ruling will be binding for the 47 countries of the Council of Europe (which is broader and different from the European Council, which gathers only the heads of state and government of the 27 Countries of the Union), on the other hand in 2016 the United Kingdom introduced in a new law, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, new supervisory powers even more extensive than those revealed by Snowden. The organizations involved in this case have already started a legal battle to prove that the law does not provide sufficient guarantees to protect the work of journalists and lawyers.

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Cybersecurity Datagate Edward Snowden Gdpr Legal Nsa Privacy United Kingdom Surveillance globalData.fldTopic = "Cybersecurity, Datagate, Edward Snowden, Gdpr, Legal, Nsa, Privacy, United Kingdom, Surveillance"

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