Wednesday 2 July 2008

Eavesdropping confined

Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights gave an important ruling on the legality of intercepting telephone and email communications in Liberty and others v. the United Kingdom. The applicants, three NGOs from the United Kingdom and Ireland complained about the interception of their communications by the Electronic Test Facility of the British Ministry of Defence in the period 1990-1997. The Court ruled unanimously that such interceptions violated the right to privacy of Article 8 ECHR. The main reason was that the existing law did not offer sufficient safeguards against abuse, since it allowed the authorities an extremely broad discretion and since the state had not provided in any way accessible to the public how they would use such discretion in the examination, sharing, storage and destuction of the intercepted communications.

The case is to be noted, because it provides - to a certain extent - minimum guidelines for states eavesdropping on their citizens' electronic communications. One of the winning applicants in the case already declared yesterday that the judgment will have implications for comparable laws in other state parties to the European Convention. Another timely judgment in an era of increasing encroachments on privacy!

The press release of the Court's registry can be found here. A press relase of one of the applicants, the NGO Liberty, is to be found here.