UK's surveillance laws challenged in landmark European court hearing

Judgement expected in early 2018

In a case expected to have implications on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) heard a landmark case on surveillance to assess the lawfulness of British surveillance laws and the mass surveillance practices of intelligence agencies.

The core challenge is whether the UK’s bulk communications interception program interfere with fundamental rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

In 2013, Snowden had revealed how British GCHQ intelligence agency was secretly intercepting and processing millions of private communications of ordinary people on a daily basis, and also sharing this data with the USA’s National Security Agency along with other countries’ agencies.

The case has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Privacy International and nine other human rights and journalism groups. According to the applicants, the interception of data could have a chilling effect on their abilities to carry out their work.

However, the government’s lawyer has argued that the bulk collection of data is critical for the ‘discovery of threats and intelligence’: “The intelligence services rely on the use of small pieces of intelligence information obtained through bulk interception in order to find new threats and those responsible for them,” he added.

The three-hour hearing began with 45-minute opening presentations from both the government and the applicants, before the judges were able to pose a set of questions. Most of them were directed at the government, with many aiming to clarify some of the more technical aspects to the case.

The judges will now consider the submissions and expected to deliver a judgement in early 2018.

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