British Surveillance Uncovered by Snowden Ruled a Human Rights Violation by EU Court

The EU human rights court found that the mass surveillance techniques used by Britain constitute a human rights violation. The practices in question were, in fact, originally brought to light by Edward Snowden.

Snowden, for his part, is responsible for massive leaks of data and whistleblowing across countless organizations.

The Ruling

The court, which is called the European Court of Human Rights, issued its verdict on Thursday. The decision held that some of the aspects of the information gathering violated provisions found in the European Convention on Human Rights. Those provisions, originally, were intended to be a defense of the privacy rights of European citizens. The practices in question were not subject to independent scrutiny, and represented the British government acting unilaterally.

Practices such as bulk data sifting and communications interception must be handled carefully by any government. By not implementing any safeguards or oversight, the British government committed a human rights violation.

Further, the seven judges of the European court also found 6-1 that the acquisition of the data itself was a human rights violation. The information was obtained from communications companies, such as those that provide internet or cell phone services.

The court did have a bit of leniency in regard to the way British intelligence obtains information from foreign spies. Sharing information between spy agencies, the court found, didn’t violate European provisions.

Human Rights Violation or Counter-Terrorism?

Civil liberties organizations in Britain called the decision a landmark one in opposing totalitarian tendencies in the government. Many find that Western governments’ moves to increase surveillance in the name of counter-terrorist programs is appalling. After all, if due process is stripped of someone for any reason, the erosion of everyone’s rights isn’t far away.

Notably, the court’s findings deal with a law called the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. That Act has been replaced as of 2016, so these findings simply validate the Act’s human rights violations. However, civil rights groups hope that this ruling sets a precedent in opposing totalitarian surveillance. After all, “he who would give up liberty for safety deserves neither,” as the groups ardently hold.