Routine Government Surveillance Breaches International Law

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Government surveillance under RIPA outdated.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s application to the Strasbourg Court challenges the government’s use of covert surveillance powers to access and analyse journalistic information. We say it is clearly contrary to fundamental human rights law.

The background to BIJ’s challenge is well known. Edward Snowden finally told us the facts.

The government uses the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to harvest huge quantities of our data. This includes the content of our digital material and communications. It also includes our communication data (or metadata) – the surrounding information about who we communicate with, how, when, from where and so on.

There is no targeting of subjects for these investigations by GCHQ (such as particular individuals or premises). Instead there is blanket collection of data in pursuit of broadly identified aims – such as the protection of national security and prevention of crime. Authorisations under RIPA are signed off routinely and on a rolling basis.

This data is then analysed using hugely sophisticated and intrusive programs to find out whatever it is the security state considers it needs to know.

RIPA was drafted before we all began to use digital communications and information storage in any meaningful way. It is not designed to protect our rights to privacy and freedom of expression – under Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights respectively – in the digital age.

Everyone knows now that RIPA is therefore no longer “fit for purpose”.

The practical and legal consequences for journalists of this data harvesting are, however, less well known. BIJ’s case is concerned with these.

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