Court: UK web, call taps breach human rights

The UK government's surveillance of calls and the internet have been found to violate the privacy rights of UK and foreign citizens, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

The Court found that the UK's secretive surveillance laws are "not in accordance with the law" and asserted that UK surveillance laws had lacked the necessary clarity and accountability to prevent abuses of power when used to intercept cross-border communications.

The ruling comes after Liberty, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and British Irish Rights Watch took the UK government to the Court over allegations that their communications had been intercepted between 1990 and 1997.

Alex Gask, Liberty's legal officer who brought the case nearly eight years ago, said: "The Court of Human Rights has rightly found that greater accessibility and accountability is required to ensure respect for the privacy of thousands of innocent people."

"While secret surveillance is a valuable tool, the mechanisms for intercepting our telephone calls and e-mails should be as open and accountable as possible, and should ensure proportionate use of very wide powers."

The Court also recognised that the 1985 Interception of Communications Act failed to provide the accessibility and accountability needed to ensure respect for the privacy of thousands of innocent people. Since the case was brought, the 1985 Act has been replaced with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Speaking about the Court's judgement Liberty's policy director and leading expert on privacy rights Gareth Crossman said: "This judgment highlights the wider problem of excessive surveillance undermining public trust. Whether it's fishing expeditions of our overseas phone calls or local councils using targeted surveillance to check on school catchment areas, we need a prompt review of the broad powers in RIPA."