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25 May, 2021 13:14

UK GCHQ spy agency’s bulk interception of communications ‘not in accordance with the law,’ European court rules

UK GCHQ spy agency’s bulk interception of communications ‘not in accordance with the law,’ European court rules

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence agency, violated the right to privacy by bulk intercepting online communications, claiming it was “not in accordance with the law.”

The ruling made on Tuesday stated that GCHQ’s approach did not provide sufficient protections for confidential journalistic material by engaging in bulk interception of online communications.

In its findings, the ECHR found three “fundamental deficiencies” in the GCHQ’s interception process: it had been authorised by a politician and not an independent body, search terms that would be flagged by the spy agency had not been included in the application for a warrant, and search terms linked to individuals had not been authorised internally prior to their use.

“In order to minimise the risk of the bulk interception power being abused, the court considers that the process must be subject to ‘end-to-end safeguards’,” the court’s judgement ruled, with the chamber’s judges warning that inaction could allow for spy agencies to establish ‘Big Brother’ in Europe.

The decision by the European court comes after a legal case brought against the UK intelligence agency by Big Brother Watch and others in the wake of whistleblowing revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

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It is not the first time that the ECHR has ruled in favour of Big Brother Watch against GCHQ. In 2018, a similar ruling on the bulk interception of online communications stated that the spy agency had violated privacy and not included sufficient safeguards before surveilling citizens.

However, the European court has not always criticized GCHQ, claiming that the agency’s sharing of sensitive digital intelligence with foreign governments was not illegal, as well as stating that bulk collection would be potentially allowed if safeguards were in place.

GCHQ has not issued a public comment at this time in relation to the recent court ruling.

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