The European Court ruled Thursday the British government violated human rights law by collecting phone calls, text messages and online communications from its citizens.
The landmark court case was a partial victory for advocates, including Amnesty International, Big Brother Watch, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and 10 human rights charities.
The groups pursued the case because they believe they were targeted for government surveillance.
The British surveillance program was first revealed by Edward Snowden, the former U.S. defense contractor who leaked similar information about the National Security Agency in 2013.
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In a 6-1 vote Thursday, the seven-judge European Court of Human Rights ruled the “bulk interception regime” breached privacy and compromised journalists and their sources and violated parts of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“In view of the potential chilling effect that any perceived interference with the confidentiality of journalists’ communications and, in particular, their sources might have on the freedom of the press, the court found that the bulk interception regime was in violation of article 10,” the court wrote.
Articles 8 and 10 protect Europeans’ rights to a private life and freedom of expression.
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The bulk collection itself wasn’t the problem and the court ruled British intelligence services are not “abusing their powers.” The ruling cites a “lack of oversight of the entire selection process” and the “absence of any real safeguards.”
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said the ruling is vindication for Snowden.
“Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the U.K. has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the right of the British public,” Carlo said in a statement. “This judgement is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion.”
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The court’s decision does not prohibit governments from sharing information with other countries, because there was no evidence that part had been abused.