Landmark Judgement: Theresa May’s Mass Surveillance State Deemed Illegal
By TruePublica: Theresa May started the Tory party conference speech last week talking about decency and civility within politics, asking her delegates to rise above the abuse and made a case for Conservative values. One wonders what those values might be given the news that the mass surveillance architecture that Theresa May herself proliferated in her tenure as Home Secretary breaks the law and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. British appeal court judges ruled last January that the government’s mass digital surveillance regime was unlawful. It didn’t stop the government then, nor will this latest judgment.
The government takes images of millions through their devices (about 15% are compromising personal images), records their conversations, stores emails, contacts, family, friends, salary, expenditure, sexual and political orientation and have been called out by the United Nations, the highest courts in Britain and those in the EU. The police, government agencies and private contractors can surf the privacy of political dissidents, non-conformists and protestors. Just last week, a judge jailed non-violent fracking protestors (for 16 months) for attempting to protect their community – the first time a British government has done so since 1932. Social media giant FB was found to have tracked these protestors and handed over the data for a fee.
The war against the people has gone full cyber and we should not forget that it was Theresa May and her government that has extended its reach with impunity into your homes, relationships and most private moments and allowed the tech giants to profit from it along the way.
Get Briefed, Get Weekly Intelligence Reports - Essential Weekend Reading - Safe Subscribe
From OpenRightsGroup is the press release that the mainstream media completely ignored over the last two weeks.
The Court found that the UK’s mass surveillance programmes, revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, did ‘not meet the “quality of law” requirement’ and were ‘incapable of keeping the “interference” to what is “necessary in a democratic society”’.
The landmark judgment marks the Court’s first ruling on UK mass surveillance programmes revealed by Mr Snowden. The case was started in 2013 by campaign groups Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Open Rights Group and computer science expert Dr Constanze Kurz following Mr Snowden’s revelation of GCHQ mass spying.
Documents provided by Mr Snowden revealed that the UK intelligence agency GCHQ were conducting “population-scale” interception, capturing the communications of millions of innocent people. The mass spying programmes included TEMPORA, a bulk data store of all internet traffic; KARMA POLICE, a catalogue including “a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet”; and BLACK HOLE, a repository of over 1 trillion events including internet histories, email and instant messenger records, search engine queries and social media activity.
The applicants argued that the mass interception programmes infringed UK citizens’ rights to privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the “population-level” surveillance was effectively indiscriminate, without basic safeguards and oversight, and lacked a sufficient legal basis in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
In its judgment, the ECtHR acknowledged that ‘bulk interception is by definition untargeted’; that there was a ‘lack of oversight of the entire selection process’, and that safeguards were not ‘sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse’.
In particular, the Court noted ‘concern that the intelligence services can search and examine “related communications data” apparently without restriction’ – data that identifies senders and recipients of communications, their location, email headers, web browsing information, IP addresses, and more. The Court expressed concern that such unrestricted snooping ‘could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person through the mapping of social networks, location tracking, Internet browsing tracking, mapping of communication patterns, and insight into who a person interacted with’.
The Court acknowledged the importance of applying safeguards to a surveillance regime, stating:
‘In view of the risk that a system of secret surveillance set up to protect national security may undermine or even destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it, the Court must be satisfied that there are adequate and effective guarantees against abuse.’
The Government passed the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) in November 2016, replacing the contested RIPA powers and controversially putting mass surveillance powers on a statutory footing.
However, today’s judgment that indiscriminate spying breaches rights protected by the ECHR is likely to provoke serious questions as to the lawfulness of bulk powers in the IPA.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:
- “Viewers of the BBC drama, the Bodyguard, may be shocked to know that the UK actually has the most extreme surveillance powers in a democracy. Since we brought this case in 2013, the UK has actually increased its powers to indiscriminately surveil our communications whether or not we are suspected of any criminal activity.
- “In light of today’s judgment, it is even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the UK Government is continuing to breach our right to privacy.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said:
- “This landmark judgment confirming that the UK’s mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr Snowden’s courageous whistleblowing and the tireless work of Big Brother Watch and others in our pursuit for justice.
- Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public. This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion. However, since the new Investigatory Powers Act arguably poses an ever greater threat to civil liberties, our work is far from over.”
Antonia Byatt, director of English PEN said:
- This judgment confirms that the British government’s surveillance practices have violated not only our right to privacy, but our right to freedom of expression too. Excessive surveillance discourages whistle-blowing and discourages investigative journalism. The government must now take action to guarantee our freedom to write and to read freely online.
Dr Constanze Kurz, computer scientist, internet activist and spokeswoman of the German Chaos Computer Club said:
- “What is at stake is the future of mass surveillance of European citizens, not only by UK secret services. The lack of accountability is not acceptable when the GCHQ penetrates Europe’s communication data with their mass surveillance techniques. We all have to demand now that our human rights and more respect of the privacy of millions of Europeans will be acknowledged by the UK government and also by all European countries.
Dan Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn, the solicitor representing the applicants, stated as follows:
- “The Court has put down a marker that the UK government does not have a free hand with the public’s communications and that in several key respects the UK’s laws and mass surveillance practices have failed. In particular, there needs to be much greater control over the search terms that the government is using to sift our communications. The pressure of this litigation has already contributed to some reforms in the UK and this judgment will require the UK government to look again at its practices in this most critical of areas.”