'GCHQ’s methods for bulk interception of online communications violated privacy and failed to provide sufficient surveillance safeguards, the European court of human rights has ruled.
But the ECHR found that GCHQ’s regime for sharing sensitive digital intelligence with foreign governments was not illegal, and it explicitly confirmed that bulk interception with tighter safeguards was permissible.
The ruling, which follows Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing revelations, is a comprehensive assessment by the ECHR of interception operations carried out until recently by UK intelligence agencies.
The legal claims, which had already been heard by the UK’s investigatory powers tribunal, were brought by a coalition of 14 human rights groups and privacy organisations including Amnesty International, Liberty, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch, as well as journalists.
The case concerned the interception regime previously operated by GCHQ. Updated regulations are coming into force under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The ECHR did not examine this legislation, which already faces fresh legal challenges.
The judges considered three aspects of digital surveillance: bulk interception of communications, intelligence sharing, and obtaining communications data from service providers.'
Read more: GCHQ data collection regime violated human rights, court rules
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