Mass Surveillance Challenge

Status: European Court of Human Rights judgment delivered September 2018.

In 2013, following Edward Snowden's disclosure of information about major national mass surveillance programmes, the Open Rights Group teamed up with Privacy International, English PEN, and Dr Constanze Kurz, a German computer scientist, to mount a legal challenge against the UK Government’s mass surveillance of the internet.

In September 2018 The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the UK’s mass interception programmes have breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

This page offers a jargon-free overview of this legal challenge. For more details, please see this wiki page.

View the legal milestones in this case


ORG's role

Initially, ORG intended to challenge these surveillance programmes in UK courts, but the Government insisted that the issue should be brought before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal first. As the Investigatory Powers Tribunal had a long-standing history of siding with the activities of intelligence services, we decided to take the challenge to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR have previously ruled that the Government does not have the right to demand applicants take their challenge to the IPT before allowing access to regular courts.

Challenges in the European Court of Human Rights are a slow process, and ORG’s challenge was eventually joined to two similar challenges which had been launched in the meantime. One of these challenges was brought by ten other human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Liberty, Privacy International, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Judgment 

The three joined challenges were heard together in the ECtHR on 7 November 2017. On 13 September 2018 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the UK’s mass interception programmes have breached the European Convention on Human Rights. Read ORG's analysis of the judgement here.

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