Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Surveillance case

The ECtHR has recently ruled on an important case (58243/00) concerning surveillance laws and privacy. According to Liberty:

"In a significant judgement today, the European Court of Human Rights found that UK surveillance laws had lacked the necessary clarity and accountability to prevent abuses of power when used to intercept cross-border communications.The ECHR agreed with human rights group Liberty that surveillance law and practice must be tighter to protect individual privacy rights.

Alex Gask, Liberty’s Legal Officer who brought the case, said:

“The Court of Human Rights has rightly found that greater accessibility and accountability is required to ensure respect for the privacy of thousands of innocent people. While secret surveillance is a valuable tool, the mechanisms for intercepting our telephone calls and e-mails should be as open and accountable as possible, and should ensure proportionate use of very wide powers.”

The ECHR referred to German authorities as an example of best practice in surveillance techniques, in part, because they ensured that monitoring of communications is suited to each investigation and required bi-annual reviews of the need to store the materials.

Gareth Crossman, Liberty’s Policy Director and leading expert on privacy rights, said:

“This judgement highlights the wider problem of excessive surveillance undermining public trust. Whether it’s fishing expeditions of our overseas phone calls or local councils using targeted surveillance to check on school catchment areas, we need a prompt review of the broad powers in RIPA.”

In the judgement, the ECHR states that it, “does not consider that the domestic law at the relevant time indicated with sufficient clarity, so as to provide adequate protection against abuse of power, the scope or manner of exercise of the very wide discretion conferred on the State to intercept and examine external communications. In particular, it did not, as required by the Court’s case-law, set out in a form accessible to the public any indication of the procedure to be followed for selecting for examination, sharing, storing and destroying intercepted material. The interference with the applicants’ rights under Article 8 (the right to privacy) was not, therefore, “in accordance with the law.”

Mark Kelly, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, added that:

“The Court has found that the United Kingdom’s relatively sophisticated rules on data interception have failed to prevent unlawful interference with privacy rights. This has clear implications for many other Council of Europe member states, including Ireland. Our lax data interception regime will require a thorough overhaul in order to ensure that it meets the standards required by the European Court of Human Rights under Article 8.”

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