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Rights groups take UK government to European Human Rights Court over mass surveillance
Rights groups take UK government to European Human Rights Court over mass surveillance

[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] revealed on Friday that the group, along with other prominent human rights organizations, has submitted an application [text, PDF] to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], bringing claims of indiscriminate surveillance practices against the UK government. The decision to formally challenge the UK government stems from information obtained from by whistle-blower Edward Snowden [BBC timeline] which showed the bulk collection, retention, and sharing of communications happening both in the UK and the US. After receiving this information, AI filed a claim with Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) [official website] which dismissed the charges as compliant with human rights, after holding several closed-door sessions with the government. The current action filed with the ECHR asserts that UK law governing intelligence agencies’ interception of communications, and its intelligence sharing practices with the US violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] which protects the human rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and non-discrimination. The government has responded saying that mass information gathering is a legitimate tool needed for the protection of citizens. Rights groups claim that national security interests cannot override citizens’ fundamental right to privacy.

The concern over mass governmental surveillance reached international saliency after the declarations [JURIST backgrounder] made by former National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] employee Edward Snowden [JURIST backgrounder], who released allegedly confidential documents purported to reveal the scope of NSA surveillance activities. In the days following Snowden’s announcement, several human rights organizations chose to bring suit against the NSA. The first to do so was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which challenged the NSA’s surveillance activities [JURIST report] based on the First and Fourth Amendments. A suit [JURIST report] from Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website] closely followed, which included actions based on alleged violations of Fifth Amendment rights. The fight against mass surveillance and the human rights violations that ensue continue today. In February, the IPT found [JURIST report] that the UK’s mass surveillance of internet activities violates human rights law. Just last month, a coalition of human rights groups brought suit [JURIST report] against the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, with claims of violating privacy rights and threatening free communication.