Liberty groups win long court battle against UK wiretapping

By EDRi · July 16, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

After nine years of legal battle by civil rights groups in London and
Dublin, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on 1 July 2008 that UK
Government had violated Human Rights by tapping their communications
between 1990 and 1997.

Liberty groups, along with British Irish Rights Watch and the Irish Council
for Civil Liberties, have claimed their communications were subject to
indiscriminate surveillance by MoD’s Electronic Test Facility that had
eavesdropped on their phone, fax, email and data communications between 1990
and 1997.

After having first lodged complaints with the UK’s Interception of
Communications Tribunal, the DPP and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal
without results because the local courts ruled “there was no contravention
to the Interception of Powers Act 1985”. Finally, the groups obtained the
Human Rights Court ruling that the UK had violated article 8 of the European
Convention on Human Rights providing the right to respect for private and
family life and correspondence.

The court found that the 1985 Act has given the UK government “virtually
unlimited” discretion to intercept communications between the UK and an
external receiver, as well as “wide discretion” to decide which
communications were listened to or read. The government had guidelines to
ensure a “safeguard against abuse of power”, but the UK’s 1985 interception
law “had not indicated with sufficient clarity… the scope or manner of the
exercise of the very wide discretion of the conferred on the State to
intercept and examine external communications” so as to guard against abuse
of power.

For 10 years now, the 1985 Act has been replaced by RIPA which has the same
objective to detect terrorism and serious crime but it is mostly applied by
local councils for minor infringements.

The court ruled that procedures regarding the use and storage of intercepted
material should be established so as to make these procedures more
transparent for the public. “While secret surveillance is a valuable tool,
the mechanisms for intercepting our telephone calls and emails should be as
open and accountable as possible, and should ensure proportionate use of
very wide powers” said Alex Gask, Liberty’s legal officer.

The ruling will have strong implications for UK’s present legislation on
phonetapping and interception of communications, and as Mark Kelly, Director
of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties believes, clear implications for
many other member states of the Council of Europe member states, such as
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.”

Liberty called for an overhaul of RIPA. However, the Home Office stated on 2
July it did not think the ruling had any implications on RIPA and UK’s
current legislation covering covert investigations.

Court rules 90s wiretaps violated human rights (2.07.2008)

Security: UK phonetap laws breach privacy (2.07.2008)

UK surveillance breaches human rights, rules ECHR (2.07.2008)