In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations, three applications from Big Brother Watch, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Amnesty International and nine other human rights charities were joined together and lodged. It sends a strong message to the UK Government that its use of extensive surveillance powers is abusive and runs against the very principles that it claims to be defending.
GCHQ, short for Government Communication Headquarters, continues to publicly neither confirm not deny the existence of programs with these codenames. "It shows that there is-and should be-a limit to the extent that states can spy on their citizens", said Megan Goulding, a lawyer for Liberty. "It can and must give us an effective, targeted system that protects our safety, data security and fundamental rights".
"In light of today's judgment, it is even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the United Kingdom government is continuing to breach our right to privacy". The scope for unrestricted snooping "could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person" through mapping of social networks and communication patterns, browsing and location tracking, and understanding who a person is interacting with, the court said. "This is a significant and important enhancement of our privacy protections".
A collection of 14 human rights organizations, journalists and privacy groups had told the court that the practices were in violation of human rights. In the ruling, handed down on 13 September, the Court ruled that the schemes violated the Article 8 right to privacy enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
"While there is no evidence to suggest that the intelligence services are abusing their powers, the Court is not persuaded that the safeguards governing the selection of bearers for interception and the selection of intercepted material for examination are sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse", the Court's ruling stated.
Its ruling said the regime covering acquisition of data from communications service providers breached Article 8 as it was not in accordance with the law.
And in a further victory for the 16 complainants the court ruled that the program provided "insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material", violating Article 10 on the convention dealing with freedom of expression and information.
Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents to the press in 2013 which revealed the vast scope of surveillance of private data that was put in place after the 9/11 attacks.
The court said individual countries "enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in choosing how best to achieve the legitimate aim of protecting national security" and that "the decision to operate a bulk interception regime in order to identify hitherto unknown threats to national security is one which continues to fall within states' margin of appreciation".
In 2016, the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal also ruled that intelligence agencies violated human rights through bulk collection and unsatisfactory oversight.