MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Snowden Validated: European Court Says the Mass Surveillance He Exposed Violates Privacy Rights

Since his whistleblowing, the United Kingdom has granted itself even more power to snoop on citizens.

GCHQAdrian PingstoneWhen Edward Snowden revealed that the government was secretly collecting and storing mass amounts of our private communications data, he wasn't just talking about the United States government. He also exposed the United Kingdom's intelligence agency (Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ) as doing the same overseas.

Today the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the U.K.'s mass collection of everybody's internet communications data violated privacy and failed to provide sufficient safeguards. The Guardian explains that after Snowden exposed the British government's role in citizen surveillance, tapping into communication networks to suck on that massive firehose of data, 14 human rights and privacy groups filed suit against the U.K.

By a 5-2 vote the court's judges determined that the U.K. had violated the privacy components of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court ruled that that while bulk surveillance can be justified to track terrorists and criminals and protect national security, the collection of data must indicate the types of crimes that would lead to bulk gathering of information, which classes of people would be subject to having their data gathered, and of course, procedures for how the data would be used, how it would be shared, and when it would be destroyed. The judges concluded, "[I]t does not consider that the authorities have struck a fair balance between the competing public and private interests by exempting it in its entirety from the safeguards applicable to the searching and examining of content."

After the court's ruling, rather than taking all the credit for exposing the surveillance to public scrutiny, Snowden tweeted out his appreciation for the groups who have taken the matter to the courts to try to stop what the U.K. has been doing:

Unfortunately, the U.K.'s response to the revelation that they were secretly snooping on its citizens was to pass the Investigatory Powers Act, a broad surveillance law that essentially gives the government permission to do what it had been secretly (and apparently illegally) doing all along. This ruling did not cover the Investigatory Powers Act, but The Guardian notes that the judges appear to take a dim view of the warrant system the new rules put into place, as they also do not require the government to indicate who or what is being surveilled.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group notes in response to the ruling that the United Kingdom has actually increased its own powers to snoop on citizens post-Snowden. Killock believes this judgment makes it "even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the UK government is continuing to breach our right to privacy."

Bonus link: Here's what's happened in the world of secret government surveillance in the five years since Snowden blew the whistle on it.

Photo Credit: Adrian Pingstone

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Just Say'n||

    Hey, why did you guys stop talking about Assange? Are we memory holing him now for respectability?

  • ||

    Especially when a heaping portion of the case against Assange sounds so much like any given Title IX. There are certainly parts where, maybe, Assange engaged in inappropriate sexual activity but it's buried under mountains of "I didn't want it, but I didn't say no, for a week and when I did say 'No.' he stopped." from women who have very anti-male backgrounds/occupations.

  • Just Say'n||

    I don't think the sexual assault accusations against Assange are why Reason has suddenly stopped talking about him, even while it appears that he's going to lose his refuge in Ecquador's embassy. I think it has more to do with abiding by group think and their reflexive conservative impulse to blindly defend the status quo that insists that Assange is a baddie, because he leaked Hillary's e-mails.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    He can come get refuge in my couch. I have a ton of pretty cool records he can listen to (almost every Death and Judas Priest Album!!!!) and tons of video games. I just imported this one PS4 game about Japanese school girls whose boobs get bigger.

    I will be a beacon to all peoples.

  • Cthulunotmyfriend||

    I laughed so hard, tears came to my eyes, and I fell off my couch.

  • MoreFreedom||

    I think it has more to do with abiding by group think and their reflexive conservative impulse to blindly defend the status quo that insists that Assange is a baddie, because he leaked Hillary's e-mails.

    Are you seriously calling this a "conservative impulse"? I've heard no conservatives disparage Assange for revealing (not Hillary's though I believe there were a few emails addressed to her in there) the DNC's and Podesta's emails. Hillary also said she wanted all her emails released (but of course was lying as usual) and to be transparent. Let's please distinguish between limited government conservatives (who don't like government spying on law abiding citizens) and the rest (RINOs, and Democrats who've abandoned defense of freedom of speech, freedom of the press or open government).

    The way I see it, is that Snowden revealed the spying apparatus, while Assange only reveals documents the statists don't want released because it exposes them for who they really are. And this article was about spying, not freedom of the press or government transparency. There hasn't been a lot to report about Assange lately given how he's been isolated by the statists.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    What's going on with Assange? Last I heard, his health was failing and he was gonna get kicked out of the embassy. I wish him all the best. I always liked that guy.

  • Just Say'n||

    www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/.....66656.html

    Last I heard about it. Greenwald mentions him every now and then

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Snowden was validated the first time he released documents.

    Snowden is a patriot for exposing blatant government violations of the Constitution, but he did violate the law too. I hope Trump pardons him.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Unfortunately Trump appears to maintain the more doctrinaire right-wing view of the government's role in fighting terror: any action taken to stop the 'bad guys' is justified. I don't see a pardon for Snowden in the Trump administration.

  • Just Say'n||

    Yeah, Snowden isn't getting pardoned. And in the off chance that he might actually consider it, expect a barrage of new intelligence leaks

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I am fine with leaks that expose the government violating the Constitution. I dont see an alternative for this one since clearly there are some corrupt bureaucrats in the system and working their way up in the system.

    I am not fine with spies simply making classified documents public to help non-Americans.

    I think that is a reasonable difference. The people who leak should still be accountable for violating the law relating to classified information. A pardon just lets people who had a great reason off the hook.

  • BYODB||

    Fact is that the 'Deep State' would never allow a pardon for Snowden. The shocking thing is that he is still alive at all.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is a tiny chance that Snowden is a CIA plant.

    He fed the Ruskies and the World false info about how the CIA/NSA was doing their business. Send foreign intel looking in wrong direction.

    Maybe the NSA and CIA are not domestically spying after all.

    Or more likely they are a bunch of treacherous shitbags violating the Constitution and extorting politicians to protect them.

  • BYODB||


    There is a tiny chance that Snowden is a CIA plant.

    No, there is not. The CIA/NSA wouldn't burn down and/or reveal their entire house of cards to put one spy without connections who's cover is entirely blown in Russia. That is stupid.

    It's more likely that Snowden is a Russian agent himself vs. him being a plant from our side, if you're splitting hairs over insane conspiracy theories.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If the house of cards was already about to be revealed.

    If they cannot keep the lid on the info, then why not add incorrect info.

    No sure how Snowden exposing corrupt bureaucrats in the Deep State would help the Russians. Corrupt bureaucrats could be extorted for more info. Short term gains can be adjusted for by the NSA/CIA

    Russians are very good at having spies in place spying for long periods of time before they get caught.

    Its like America tapping into Russian naval comms cable under the Sea of Okhotsk for Operation Ivy Bells. The USA did it for years until a disgruntled NSA agents ratted the USA out.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Do you think Dennis Rodman is a CIA agent now?

    I think there's a chance. If Rodman was always doing a bunch of crazy stuff like he used to then I would say no. He seems to stay fairly low profile except for trips to hang with Rocketman.

  • Delius||

    No, the shocking thing is that anyone still unironically refers to the "deep state".

  • Ken Shultz||

    We instituted the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, etc. amendments, in no small part, because we didn't want to be like the UK. I've often found myself saying to Brits I've known and worked with that, "because that's the way we do things in the UK" has never been a good reason to do anything.

    Oh, and with encrypted communication platforms being compromised through acquisitions by Google and Facebook (talk about the fox guarding the hen house!), now's a great time to talk to your friends and family about Signal. Start using it as a default for SMS, and you'll hardly even notice it's there.

    Again, we shouldn't expect others to take our Fourth Amendment concerns seriously if we don't even bother to avail ourselves of free and reasonably effective methods to protect our own Fourth Amendment rights. If Facebook buying WhatsApp is the fox guarding the hen house, then expecting the government to protect our privacy is like the butcher guarding the pig farm.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Or you could just dispense with using FB Messenger or WhatsApp. I've lived quite a bit of my life with neither and seem to get on OK.

  • Ken Shultz||

    That'll work.

  • Dragan Stankovic||

    FB messenger is a system app on my phone. It was on the last 3 I have had I think, maybe only 2. I had to root my phones to get rid of it, and it cannot be permanently shut off without rooting. It is not so easy for everyone to do.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There's a new OS based on Android coming out--supposed to be later this month. It's being put together by a team that's led by the guy that started Mandrake Linux.

    The first beta just came out--I think it was earlier this week:

    https://e.foundation/e-first-beta-is-here/

    It's a version of android that's been stripped of all association with Google. It's open source. And they're offering a Google Play like app service, where everything is curated for being open source, how it shares your data, etc. They'll also be offering non-Google Google services alternatives. They have their own encrypted email, for instance, they have map programs that won't share your GPS location, etc., etc.

    I just bought an unlocked phone that was on their device list. Looking forward to trying it out. I want a smart phone without Apple or Google. I want Android without Google.

    Now if I could only learn to live without YouTube.

  • Dragan Stankovic||

    Keep me posted I would also like to drop my Google associations.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Check this out:

    http://hackernoon.com/leaving-.....e39f492c6f

    It gives a good rundown of what it offers.

  • Red Tony||

    Ken, at some point I am going to ask you for a list of recommendations for what I can use to avoid Google/Facebook/Apple as much as possible.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Apple and Facebook are probably easier than Google since they maintain relatively closed ecosystems.

  • Deb sab xis||

    I don't understand what a euro court has to do with his validation.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Me neither. The Euro court has no jurisdiction in this matter.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I validated his actions long ago. I can understand why no one would give a shite about a European anything, but my judgment is beyond reproach.

  • Don't look at me.||

    And no mention of Trump. Weird.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The court ruled that that while bulk surveillance can be justified to track terrorists and criminals and protect national security, the collection of data must indicate the types of crimes that would lead to bulk gathering of information, which classes of people would be subject to having their data gathered, and of course, procedures for how the data would be used, how it would be shared, and when it would be destroyed.

    Am I misinterpreting this, or is this essentially the court saying that they violated people's rights because they didn't follow the proper procedures, not because people are born with certain intrinsic rights (one of which is he right to privacy)? That's a fucked view of how rights work. But then again this is Europe we're talking about, so not surprising.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Not only that, but if one had search algorithms to find targets of interest, if they detailed how those targets were identified, criminals will simply change behavoir. Additionally if those algorithms were built thru machine learning, they may not be able to detail exactly how targets are identified anymore than being able to tell why a self driving car with machine learning based control did one thing over the other.

    Note I firmly believe mass data capture is antithetical to individual rights and the third-party doctrine is BS, but this is just Europe acting with self righteous superiority over the US.

    Given their own laws violate the very same protections, it's obvious they don't care about individual privacy.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Semi related: If your store you data "in the cloud" you don't own your data.

    Today, however, multiple users believe that the content they were locked out of did not contain prohibited material. National Geographic reporter Rachael Bale, who was locked out of a draft of a story about wildlife crime, claims that nothing in her document violated Google's policies. "It's about legal, but ethically dubious activity," she tweeted.
  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    What's interesting, is the Mashable story doesn't question, nor does Google deny that they do and will be watching your personal documents for "inappropriate content", they just note that they incorrectly flagged these particular documents for inappropriate content.

    I'm sliding firmly into the "fuck google" camp.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's probably no strong assurance to you, but the reason they monitor for inappropriate content is Google is legally liable for Copywritten or illegal content on the server.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Within "private documents" (for simplicity, I'm calling them private documents because they're presumed to be owned by the user and not published on a crawled website for public consumption)?

    And even then, looking for copywritten material is a functionally different thing than looking for "inappropriate" material.

    This is disturbing.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And, of course, it's necessary and important for writers to retain ownership of documents that are early versions of their final product — no matter how raw — so as to put a complete draft through the editorial process.

    Nobody should be writing hate speech or death threats in their Google docs — or anywhere.

    But if Google's flagging system is so glitchy as to incorrectly target other content, a Google Docs user on a deadline needs to be on their toes. Bale tweeted that she no longer plans to write in Google Docs. Until Google fully resolves this issue, perhaps other journalists should follow her lead.

    to be sure...

  • Just Say'n||

    From what I understand, it's a private company and we need to "respect their right to do what they want" (classic Seyton) and I'm going to hold firm on this position when Verizon starts censoring texts that I send that contain wrong think.

  • Just Say'n||

    "To be sure, so long as the gulags are privately operated, I don't understand what is wrong with them"

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    This is genuinely creepy shit. This is what passes for journalism these days (the Mashable article). Hey, no problem they're inspecting your content, and they should be locking you out of your meaney hatey speech. But for those of us real Journalists doing righteous work who might get incorrectly flagged, you might miss a deadline! CATASTROPHE!

  • BYODB||

    In fairness, we need to at least admit that people who are dumb enough to keep and store documents on complete strangers servers might at least deserve some of what they get.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    In fairness, we need to at least admit that people who are dumb enough to keep and store documents on complete strangers servers might at least deserve some of what they get.

    To quote myself from years worth of previous Hit & Run threads:

    If you store your data in the [cloud] you don't own that data.

  • BYODB||


    If you store your data in the [cloud] you don't own that data.


    Exactly. If someone doesn't understand that, it's honestly not Google's fault. I mean, it's Google's fault that they secretly abuse their customers data privacy, but the fact that people think they have data privacy when they keep their data on a literal strangers server is...a real bizarre thing people seem to believe.

  • BYODB||

    A) Isn't the European Court of Human Rights a powerless body?


    B) Edward Snowden is possibly one of the greatest Patriots we've seen in a generation.


    C) It's too bad Trump isn't actually a great guy, since he'll never pardon Snowden. Neither would Obama, and neither will any future President I suspect. That says a lot about every branch of our government.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    President Diane Reynolds will. I'm thinking of running in 2024, after Hillary's first term.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Speaking of powerless bodies.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Hillary is now like the Wizard in Wizard of Oz speaking from behind a curtain.

  • WillPaine||

    Apologies for crashing this ; I already know what the First Amendment is; its importance. Be it Julian, or Jonesy; let it be; Hey Gang (dare I say that?..#:-) if you might like something fascinating, look up Guarani Aquifer/Bush family ; then check ut the military base (fair empty apparently) that holds 16,000 with an airstrip for the largets planes...hmm..womder who paid for tha? Some say we will be switching from petro dollars U.S. to Hydro dollars; makes sense in a ver strange way, no? The water? Really? Well, gas is cheaper at the moment, yes?...#:-)

  • WillPaine||

    Apologies for crashing this ; I already know what the First Amendment is; its importance. Be it Julian, or Jonesy; let it be; Hey Gang (dare I say that?..#:-) if you might like something fascinating, look up Guarani Aquifer/Bush family ; then check ut the military base (fair empty apparently) that holds 16,000 with an airstrip for the largets planes...hmm..womder who paid for tha? Some say we will be switching from petro dollars U.S. to Hydro dollars; makes sense in a ver strange way, no? The water? Really? Well, gas is cheaper at the moment, yes?...#:-)

  • ||

    The E.C.H.R. is wrong in trying to balance private interest against public interests, e.g., trying to balance the private interest of a thug against the public's interest to be safe. A thug has no right to violate rights and a bureaucracy has no right or even a privilege to violate rights.

    Bureaucracies have been granted powers by politicians who were granted the political power to use violence without accountability. Govt. judging itself is NOT accountability. Now we see one govt. agency (an international one) condemning a national one. This is a warning to the public, a wake-up call. Will it be ignored? When authorities clash, will the merits of the case be debated in public or ignored in favor of the reputation of the courts? I hope the former, but I fear the latter or no debate at all.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online