Surveillance is not a human rights violation, UK tribunal rules

Just days after we reported the NSA has access to 70% of the world's cellphone networks through monitoring high-value communications and exploiting network weaknesses; the UK has announced the results of a tribunal investigation into whether mass surveillance on citizens is an infringement on human rights.

Rights groups including 'Privacy International' and 'Bytes for All' took their case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) against the UK government in large-part due to the "Snowden revelations" which have given the public impression that intelligence services are able to infiltrate the devices of mass groups of individuals without performing due course.

RIPA was used by UK police forces to obtain information about journalists' sources in at least two cases related to the 'Plebgate' enquiry and the prosecution of Chris Huhne.

The IPT ruled the programs used by the UK's GCHQ and US' NSA as legal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which was brought-in 14 years ago and was criticised as rushed through with little debate in the House of Commons under threats of terrorism, internet crime, and paedophilia. The Act's powers include; Interception of a communication, use of communications data, directed surveillance, covert human intelligence sources, and intrusive surveillance.

RIPA has been scrutinised on many occasions for its use. In Poole, council officials put three children and their parents under surveillance 21 times in 2008 to monitor their daily movements to see if they lived in a particular school catchment area. Fishermen were also placed under covert surveillance to check for the illegal harvesting of cockles and clams. In June 2008, the chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, sent out a letter to the leaders of every council in England urging local governments not to use the new powers granted by RIPA "for trivial matters" and suggested "reviewing these powers annually by an appropriate scrutiny committee".

Councils have become less-frivolous with their use of RIPA for surveillance purposes. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners' latest report shows that public bodies granted 8,477 requests for Directed Surveillance; which is down over 1,400 on the previous year.

RIPA is still in questionable use, however. In October 2014, RIPA was used by UK police forces to obtain information about journalists' sources in at least two cases related to the 'Plebgate' enquiry and the prosecution of Chris Huhne. In both cases, telephone records of the journalists were obtained without the usual court proceedings needed to obtain such information.

Privacy International and Bytes for All will now lodge an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights after the IPT's finding that mass surveillance is legal under UK law. The groups will also ask the European Court of Human Rights to scrutinize GCHQ’s actions and respect citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression, enshrined in Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We will keep you updated with any further developments.

Do you think mass surveillance is a violation of human rights? Let us know in the comments.

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15 Dec 2014, 8:04 a.m.

Perhaps it varies country to country


9 Nov 2015, 12:08 p.m.

Ofcource it is. Only a very weak goverment needs to spy on there own people. Cameron also lacks the knowledge on how Internet works thats why he comes with the most stupid laws after another. More oven not a single terrorist have been caught so fat with the existing laws. So its useless and just a big waste of money.