U.K.’s Data Spying After Snowden Violated Privacy Rights

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, speaks on screen during a virtual conversation at a featured session at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, U.S. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

U.K.’s Data Spying After Snowden Violated Privacy Rights


The U.K.’s bulk interception of its own citizens’ communications in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden violated their privacy laws, Europe’s human-rights tribunal ruled.

The U.K. government’s program “had been authorized by the Secretary of State, and not by a body independent of the executive,” that lacked the “end-to-end safeguards,” to narrow the scope of the data being intercepted, the European Court of Human Rights said in a decision published Tuesday.

The decision from the ECHR’s Grand Chamber reiterated much of a decision from its own lower court in 2018. Significantly, however, the ECHR’s Grand Chamber ruled by 12 votes to 5, that there had been no violation of privacy with regards to the U.K.’s regime for requesting intercepted material from foreign governments and intelligence agencies.

“The judgment confirms definitively that the U.K.’s bulk interception practices were unlawful for decades, a finding that vindicates Mr. Snowden’s whistleblowing,” Big Brother Watch, the campaign group which made the original claim, said in a statement.

Snowden became a household name and a hero to many in 2013 when he leaked highly classified information from U.S. agencies’ surveillance programs. He worked with journalists to reveal the government’s hacking of private internet systems and its widespread spying on allies as well as the U.S.

The 2016 Investigatory Powers Act has already replaced large parts of the law that was the subject of this challenge, a spokesperson for the U.K.’s Home Office said noting the judgment.

“The U.K. has one of the most robust and transparent oversight regimes for the protection of personal data and privacy anywhere in the world,” the spokesperson said.

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