Court rules UK surveillance breached European rights law


LONDON — Europe’s top human rights court ruled Tuesday that British mass surveillance and intelligence gathering practices breached human rights laws, in a partial victory for civil rights groups that had challenged the practices exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ruling by the court’s lower chamber that found some aspects of British surveillance regimes violated provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights aimed at safeguarding Europeans’ rights to privacy.

The court’s 17 judges unanimously agreed that there wasn’t enough independent scrutiny of processes used by British intelligence services to sift through data and communications intercepted in bulk, resulting in violations of the right to privacy and freedom of expression.

U.K. spies did get some relief. The court gave a thumbs-up to British laws governing how electronic intelligence is shared with foreign governments or intelligence agencies.

“Sufficient safeguards had been in place to protect against abuse and to ensure that U.K. authorities had not used requests for material from foreign intelligence partners” to get around U.K. laws, the court said.

However, five of the judges dissented on that point.

Judge Pinto de Albuquerque wrote that the ruling didn’t go far enough and “has just opened the gates for an electronic ‘Big Brother’ in Europe.”

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