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Unjustified Intrusion: European court rules UK mass surveillance programme violates human rights

14 Sep 2018

In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the UK intelligence agency GCHQ was running a mass surveillance and bulk communications interception programme known as TEMPORA. UK intelligence agencies were also receiving data from two other surveillance and bulk interception programmes, PRISM and UPSTREAM, run by the US National Security Agency (NSA).


Following these revelations, Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Open Rights Group and Dr Constanze Kurz made an application to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that these surveillance programmes were a significant interference with UK citizens’ right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


Landmark Ruling


The European Court of Human Rights has said in a landmark ruling that the UK government’s mass surveillance programme violated UK citizens’ right to privacy. In particular, the Strasbourg court said safeguards governing the selection of data for examination were “inadequate”.


The court also found "the regime for obtaining communications data from communications service providers" violated the same human right.


This judgment is said to be a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion.


Megan Goulding, a lawyer for Liberty, said:


"Police and intelligence agencies need covert surveillance powers to tackle the threats we face today – but the Court has ruled that those threats do not justify spying on every citizen without adequate protections.”




On a smaller scale, organisations using surveillance e.g. CCTV, must do so in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act sets out the rules which CCTV operators must follow when they gather, store and release CCTV images of individuals. Breaches of the rules can infringe individual’s privacy rights and the Information Commissioner can use their enforcement powers.


For assistance with implementing the appropriate policies and procedures in relation to surveillance, please do not hesitate to contact David Gibson at or Andrew Swan – Head of Regulation and Financial Crime at or at 0191 232 0283.

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