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December 5, 2014

GCHQ did not break ECHR, says tribunal

Right to privacy and free speech not flouted by acts revealed in Snowden Leaks.

By Jimmy Nicholls

British government snooping, uncovered by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has been judged legal by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

The tribunal, which is responsible for regulating state snooping, said that "as of today" the activities by the signals agency do not flout the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that guarantees a right to privacy in British and European law, but did ask for more information.

"We have been able to satisfy ourselves that as of today there is no contravention of Articles 8 and 10 by reference to those systems," the judgement by the IPT read. "We have left open for further argument the question as to whether prior hereto there has been a breach."

A coalition of privacy lobbyists, including Liberty, Privacy International and Amnesty International brought the case against GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 during hearings in July.

They argued that the intelligence services had breached the eighth article of the ECHR, which guarantees a right to privacy, as well as the tenth article, which guarantees a right to free speech.

Though the secret services have not confirmed most of the allegations by Snowden, for the purposes of the hearing it was assumed they were all true. In its summary, the tribunal said it would consider "in closed" whether an unlawful breach of the claimants communicatons had taken place.

"The government has managed to bluff their way out of this, retreating into closed hearings, and constantly playing the ‘national security’ card. The tribunal has accepted that approach," said Rachel Logan, Amnesty International UK’s legal advisor.

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"We have had to painstakingly drag out every detail we could from an aggressively resistant government. The IPT’s decisions – uniquely – cannot be appealed within the UK and this is a disappointing, if unsurprising, verdict from an overseer that was in part assessing itself."

The case will now be submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, the supreme body for judgements on the ECHR.

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