UNITED KINGDOM: Human rights groups seek to build on historic surveillance judgment in Grand Chamber appeal

(LIBERTY) 10 JULY 2019
  • Human rights and privacy groups seek firmer ruling on bulk surveillance, appealing landmark judgment

Following last year’s victory in which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found the UK’s historic surveillance regime was illegal, a coalition of human rights groups will today ask the Strasbourg Court’s Grand Chamber to go further in its judgment.

Last September, after a five year legal battle, the ECtHR found the UK’s historical bulk interception regime (under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)) violated the right to privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the right to free expression protected by Article 10.

Today, groups including Liberty, Amnesty International and Privacy International are seeking to build on that victory by arguing at the Court’s highest chamber that bulk interception of communications inherently violates our privacy and freedom of expression. They are also arguing that the regime for intelligence sharing between the UK and foreign states is illegal, as the UK Government can, in sharing intercepted material, bypass the safeguards in place for when it itself intercepts communications.

Only a small number of the most significant cases get heard at the Grand Chamber. In the light of rapid technological change and the intrusiveness of bulk surveillance, the coalition is urging the Court to reassess the lawfulness of carrying out mass surveillance on ordinary people not considered a threat.


“Bulk surveillance powers mean that UK government agencies are spying on ordinary people on an enormous scale, sweeping up and storing their private communications and data.

“These powers have already been found to be illegal by the Court, and today’s hearing is another important step towards ensuring our surveillance regime respects our fundamental rights to privacy and free expression.

“Our surveillance regime must be led by suspicion rather than subjecting us all to intrusive state monitoring which undermines our freedom.”


“Why should we have to hide from spying governments? Recognised under numerous instruments, treaties and international norms, privacy is our foundational right upon which many of our associated freedoms operate. Led by Liberty, seven INCLO members from across the globe join this challenge to protect the private communications rights of hundreds of millions of people.”


“Should the government be allowed to snoop on your digital communications even if you’re not suspected of any crime? Just because the technology enables them to, should they be allowed to do this at an unprecedented scale, snooping on potentially millions of people? We have been arguing for several years that the answer to both these questions is a resounding no.

“Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that parts of the UK’s historic mass surveillance regime were unlawful. Today we are asking the Grand Chamber to build on last year’s judgment and say once and for all that the UK government’s bulk interception of our digital communications is a violation of privacy and freedom of expression, as protected by Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights”