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Britain rebuked for spying on us for seven years

Resource type: News

The Irish Independent |

Original Source By Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor THE British government illegally and secretly monitored every telephone, fax and email to and from the UK and Ireland for seven years. Laws surrounding mass covert surveillance, which the British government insisted were necessary to combat a growing threat from terrorism, were yesterday found to have violated privacy laws. In a landmark ruling which could have significant implications for a similar case under way in the Irish High Court, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British government’s scheme of external surveillance was not “in accordance with the law”. It did not provide adequate protection against abuse of power and conferred wide discretion to intercept and examine external communications. The case was taken to the Strasbourg court by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and two UK-based human rights agencies, Liberty and British-Irish Rights Watch, who claimed their privacy was breached by the alleged data “fishing expeditions”. Relying on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) — the right to respect for private and family life and correspondence — the groups, who were in regular telephone contact between 1990 and 1997, argued that the mass interception of all communications between the UK and Ireland was disproportionate and lacked transparency. Violation “The (UK) rules governing data interception [did not] set out in a form accessible to the public . . . the procedure to be followed for selecting for examination, sharing, storing and destroying intercepted material,” the seven-judge court ruled. “It follows that there has been a violation of Article 8.” The ICCL case revolved around the interception and storing, by a British Ministry of Defence facility, of all telephone, fax, email and data communications between the UK and Ireland. This included legally privileged and confidential information exchanged between the ICCL, Liberty, and British Irish Rights Watch. Last night, ICCL director Mark Kelly said: “The Strasbourg Court has vindicated the ICCL’s belief that data ‘fishing expeditions’ by the intelligence services will fall foul of Article 8 of the ECHR. “The judges found that the United Kingdom’s relatively sophisticated rules on data interception failed to prevent unlawful interference with privacy rights. This has clear implications for Ireland’s lax data interception regime.” TJ McIntyre, Chairman of Digital Rights Ireland and lecturer in law at University College Dublin, said the judgment would be significant for Digital Rights Ireland’s current High Court challenge to data retention. “This landmark case casts further doubt on the legality of Ireland’s ‘data retention’ system which tracks the telephone calls and internet use of all citizens,” said Mr McIntyre. “It is a clear statement . . . that indiscriminate surveillance will generally be incompatible with the right to privacy.”

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