Civil liberties groups take surveillance law challenge to European court

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Nov 07, 2017
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Civil rights groups say the case is “a major test of the lawfulness of the UK’s continued blanket gathering” of online data

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European judges will tomorrow start hearing a landmark challenge to the legality of UK surveillance laws and the allegedly mass snooping practices of the country’s intelligence agencies.

Lawyers for the claimant civil liberties groups will tell the European Court of Human Rights that British spies have been illegally invading the privacy of British citizens and those of other countries around the world.

The hearing in Strasbourg is the latest stage in a protracted attempt to curb the UK’s wide-ranging surveillance powers, with legal challenges having been triggered after the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden four years ago.

Today’s challenge is backed by Amnesty International, Liberty, Privacy International and 11 other human rights and journalism groups, as well as two individuals.

The claimants say that the case is “a major test of the lawfulness of the UK’s continued blanket gathering and use of online data”.

In 2014 the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the UK court that has jurisdiction over the country’s intelligence agencies, ruled that the intelligence gathering practices may in principle comply with the UK’s human rights obligations. It is this finding that the campaigning groups will challenge today.

“This case is a watershed moment for people’s privacy and freedom of expression across the world,” Nick Williams, Amnesty International’s senior legal counsel, said.

Williams added that while UK laws were at the centre of the challenge, the hearing’s significance was global. “By bringing together human rights defenders and journalists from four different continents, it serves to highlight the dangers mass surveillance pose to the vital work of countless organisations and to individuals who expose human rights abuses and defend those at risk”.

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