Moving forward the fight against mass surveillance

Posted by Hannah Couchman on 11 December 2018

This year has seen a series of milestones in the fight against mass surveillance, including our victory at the European Court of Human Rights in September, which saw several significant wins in the fight against intrusive state surveillance.

But today we are seeking to appeal that decision – to prove that bulk surveillance can never be justified in a rights-respecting democracy.

Mass surveillance

Liberty has long fought against mass surveillance powers. The UK Government has adopted a number of deeply intrusive surveillance regimes, and Liberty has always risen to the challenge of resisting these invasive state powers – in Parliament, in the Courts and alongside campaigners and members of the public who demand their fundamental rights be respected.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the UK’s surveillance regime is the use of “bulk powers”. These powers allow the State to hoover up and keep enormous quantities of data about a wide range of people.

You do not have to be suspected of any crime or wrongdoing to have your privacy breached in this way. It could happen to any one of us – or, more likely, a huge number of us. A bulk warrant could apply to an entire population.

And far from supporting the Government in tackling serious crime, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that mass surveillance practices actually hinder law enforcement efforts.

Our rights at risk 

Bulk powers can be used by the Government to access our most sensitive personal information – our messages to friends and family, the websites we visit and what we post online, where we go and who we go with. And this information can be used to build up disturbingly detailed profiles about us.

This indiscriminate surveillance represents an unjustifiable invasion of our privacy. It also erodes our freedom of expression and our right to peaceful assembly and association. Being monitored in this way causes us to self-censor and change our behaviour.

Liberty believes that the intrusive powers used for state surveillance in the UK should be lawful, targeted and proportionate – and we are fighting for this in the courts.

The fight continues

In September this year, we secured a crucial victory when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s historical bulk surveillance violated the right to privacy and to free expression. We brought this case together with Amnesty International, Privacy International and 11 other human rights and journalism groups from around the world.

This ruling represents a significant win in our fight against invasive surveillance powers – but we want to go further. Liberty, alongside the groups joined together in the initial challenge*, have applied to the Court to appeal this judgment and push for the Court to hold that bulk powers can never be justified.

And our work doesn’t stop there. We are also challenging the UK Government’s use of the same powers under the current surveillance regime. We won the first part of this case in April, and the rest of the case will be heard next year.

In both challenges, we will argue that the routine, daily surveillance of billions of communications is not acceptable in our democratic society.

The fight goes on.

 

*The groups appealing the decision are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, Bytes for All, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Legal Resources Centre, Liberty and Privacy International.

Hannah Couchman Liberty

Hannah Couchman

Liberty
Advocacy and Policy Officer