The UK and Sweden have violated a key human rights convention over their surveillance regimes, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.
In two separate decisions, the Strasbourg-based tribunal, which operates under the Council of Europe, said countries’ mass surveillance regimes did not respect “end-to-end safeguards” to ensure that interception operations are properly vetted .
The UK does not have an independent watchdog reviewing interception authorizations, the court found. The country’s laws have also failed to protect journalists’ rights to confidentiality with their sources, he said. The UK case was filed by an advocacy group called Big Brother Watch in 2013 after whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed UK surveillance operations.
UK regime ruling could complicate upcoming EU decision to allow flow of personal data to UK
In February, the European Commission approved a data transfer agreement declaring the UK data protection regime to be ‘substantially equivalent’ to European standards and allow personal data to continue to flow across the Channel.
But the European Parliament formally opposed the move earlier this month, saying UK data protection standards were insufficient. EU national data surveillance authorities have also expressed reservations, and their concerns should be heightened by the Strasbourg decision.
The Strasbourg court also ruled that the Swedish mass interception regime had not assessed whether data exchanges with other countries guaranteed confidentiality.
“Surveillance activities play a vital role in ensuring our security, but they must be carried out with strong guarantees for privacy and other fundamental rights,” said Fredrik Bergman, who heads the Centrum för rättvisa, the Swedish group advocate who lodged the complaint.
“We are delighted that the Grand Chamber has seized this opportunity to chart a clear course for the level of protection expected in Sweden, in Europe and beyond. ”