By Guest author

EPIC filed a third-party intervention with the European Court of Human Rights in a significant case about mass surveillance and transatlantic co-operation between intelligence agencies. The 10 Human Rights Organizations and Others v the UK (24960/15) case involves a challenge brought by NGOs from all around the world including Privacy International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.

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The human rights organisations argue that surveillance by British and U.S. intelligence organisations violate their rights to privacy and freedom of expression. In support of the NGOs, EPIC provided the Court with information concerning the scope and nature of surveillance conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), which has a special relevance to this case. Specifically, in its brief EPIC discusses:

(1) the NSA’s capacity for wide scale surveillance and the legal structures in the United States governing NSA activities, including a brief history of the surveillance activities revealed in documents released by Edward Snowden,
(2) the impact of recent reform proposals in the US on privacy protections for non-U.S. persons and, finally
(3) current trends in US and European surveillance law that are undermining privacy, data protection, and security.

EPIC explained that the NSA’s “technological capacities” enable “wide scale surveillance” and that US statutes do not restrict surveillance of non-U.S. persons abroad. “The NSA collects personal data from around the world and transfer that data without adequate legal protections.” Article 19 also submitted a third-party intervention in the procedure to highlight the chilling effect of mass surveillance and the importance of source protection for NGOs.

The case is closely connected to others currently before the Court such as the Big Brother Watch v the UK (58170/13) and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v the UK (62322/14). The difference between these two cases and the one EPIC is participating in is the exhaustion of domestic remedies. It is up to the Court to assess if the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s procedure is considered “effective”.

The Court’s decision will have an important impact on the trend that both the United States and EU Member States are moving toward laws and measures that further undermine privacy and security. As Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of ACLU, has put it “Mass surveillance is increasingly global, but so is resistance to it.”

EPIC’s third-party intervention
https://epic.org/amicus/echr/liberty-gchq/TenHumanRightsOrganizations-EPIC-Amicus-ECtHR-18032016.pdf

10 Human Rights Organizations and Others v the UK
http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-159526

Article 19’s third-party intervention
https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38293/en/ecthr:-bulk-interception-powers-violate-freedom-of-expression

Monike Ermeert: Europe: queue of complaints against snooping laws grows by the month (12.03.2016)
http://policyreview.info/articles/news/europe-queue-complaints-against-snooping-laws-grows-month/397

The Guardian: GCHQ spied on Amnesty International, tribunal tells group in email (02.07.2015)
http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/01/gchq-spied-amnesty-international-tribunal-email

(Contribution by Fanny Hidvegi, EPIC)

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