On 25 May the European Court of Human Rights delivered important judgments on electronic mass surveillance (or bulk interception):
- Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, nos. 58170/13 etc (judgment).
- Centrum för rättvisa v. Sweden, no. 35252/08 (judgment).
The reactions are critical.
Marko Milanovic wrote for EJIL the article ‘The Grand Normalization of Mass Surveillance: ECtHR Grand Chamber Judgments in Big Brother Watch and Centrum för rättvisa‘. His conclusion:
In sum, this is a hugely important pair of judgments, which need to be seen for what they are – rightly or wrongly, the permanent normalization of mass surveillance in human rights terms. The price of that normalization is the subjecting of such surveillance to more rigorous regulation and administrative and judicial safeguards, but without really questioning the substantive merits of these programmes.
Some comments on Twitter:
Big Brother Watch now out. Looking at the dissents, it does not look good for anti-surveillance campaigners: ‘with the present judgment the Strasbourg Court has just opened the gates for an electronic “Big Brother” in Europe’ https://t.co/1HqKz64qS5
— Michael Veale (@mikarv) May 25, 2021
Gezien deze nieuwste uitspraak van het Europese mensenrechtenhof lijkt de Nederlandse ongerichte interceptie te voldoen aan de eisen van het EVRM, met name door de onafhanklijke toetsingsfunctie van de (niet onomstreden) TIB https://t.co/a7hriw98yM
— Electrospaces (@electrospaces) May 25, 2021
Addition 2 June 2021
Read also on this judgment:
Human rights groups win European Court of Human Rights claim on UK mass surveillance regime, Privacy International on the EDRi website. Intro:
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has today ruled that UK mass surveillance laws violate the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.
“Today’s ruling is an important win for privacy and freedom for everyone in the UK and beyond. Until the Snowden revelations, no one even knew about these mass surveillance regimes. It was all in the shadows, without any oversight or accountability. Since 2013, we were at least – and at last – able to scrutinise the intelligence agencies’ surveillance capabilities. Today the Court reiterated that intelligence agencies cannot act on their own, in secret and in the absence of authorisation and supervision by independent authorities. They must be accountable because their capabilities to access personal data about each and every one of us – even if we’re not suspected of any wrongdoing – pose serious risks in a democratic society. The judgment offers some pieces of the puzzle for stronger protections in the future, but it is not the end. We will continue to fight against abusive mass surveillance powers and for stronger protections for everyone across the globe.” – said Ilia Siatitsa, acting Legal Director at Privacy International.
Opening the gates for an electronic “Big Brother”? | European Court on Human Rights Bought Spy Agencies’ Spin on Mass Surveillance, EFF on the EDRi site. Intro:
Opening the gates for an electronic “Big Brother”?
This landmark decision, while powerful in declaring that UK mass interception powers are unlawful, failed to protect journalists, and lacked legal safeguards to ensure British spy agency GCHQ wasn’t abusing its power, imprudently bought into spy agency propaganda that suspicionless interception powers must be granted to ensure national security. The Grand Chamber rejected the fact that mass surveillance is an inherently disproportionate measure and believed that any potential privacy abuses can be mitigated by “minimization and targeting” within the mass spying process. We know this doesn’t work. The Grand Chamber refused to insist that governments stop bulk interception–a mistake recognized by ECHR Judge Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque.
“For good or ill, and I believe for ill more than for good, with the present judgment the Strasbourg Court has just opened the gates for an electronic “Big Brother” in Europe.” – said ECHR Judge Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque.
European Court decision in Big Brother Watch case does not go far enough to protect free expression and privacy, ARTICLE 19 on the EDRi site. Intro:
European Court decision in Big Brother Watch case does not go far enough to protect free expression and privacy
The finding of a violation is testimony to the doggedness of civil society in holding the UK government to account in the wake of the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance programmes.
The European Court’s decision sets a poor precedent for the protection of privacy and freedom of expression worldwide and falls below the standards established by the Court of Justice of the European Union. It also reveals the Court’s fundamental lack of understanding of the chilling effect of mass surveillance on the right to freedom of expression.