10 Human Rights Organisations and Others v United Kingdom is a case currently awaiting a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The case involves a number of applicants challenging the UK Government over their use of illegal mass surveillance programmes, as revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden. It is comprised of three related challenges which have been joined together to be heard simultaneously by the court.
This case raises novel and important issues of law and principle: it is the first time the European Court of Human Rights has been called upon to address directly the question of whether surveillance on the scale now taking place should be permitted and the minimum safeguards that are needed to meet the standards required by the European Convention on Human Rights in an age of digital communication.
The case challenges the UK’s right to:
- intercept, in bulk, any communication that happens to traverse the UK and to store the content of these communications as well as any related communications data; and
- obtain similar bulk access to communications and data intercepted by the intelligence services of other states.
- 1 Full Title(s)
- 2 Big Brother Watch & Others v United Kingdom (no. 58170/13)
- 3 Judgment
- 4 10 Human Rights Organisations v United Kingdom (no. 24960/15)
- 5 Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v United Kingdom (no. 62322/14)
- 6 Combined ECtHR Case
- 7 References
The ECtHR case consists of three similar challenges being heard simultaneously, with the following titles:
- Big Brother Watch and Others v United Kingdom (no. 58170/13)
- 10 Human Rights Organisations and Others v United Kingdom (no. 24960/15)
- Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v United Kingdom (no. 62322/14)
Big Brother Watch & Others v United Kingdom (no. 58170/13)
In 2013, following Snowden's disclosure of information about major national mass surveillance programmes, the Open Rights Group (along with Privacy International, English PEN and Dr Constanze Kurz) launched a legal challenge to the UK's internet surveillance activities before the European Court of Human Rights. The challenge argued that unchecked mass surveillance is a breach of citizens' right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Any interference with that right must be proportionate and in accordance with adequate and published legal standards. The law and practice in the UK fails to meet either requirement.
The Applicants initially sought to bring their case in the UK domestic courts and wrote to the UK Government on 3 July 2013 stating that a judicial review challenge would be brought. However the Government told the Applicants that they would have to make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The European Court of Human Rights has previously held, in the case of Kennedy v UK, that it does not require applicants to complain to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal before making an application to Strasbourg, due to concerns about its effectiveness and its power to grant the remedy that they seek. The Applicants therefore issued proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights, which will determine whether UK law breaches international law. It is believed to be the first international law challenge based on the Snowden disclosures.
- Original ORG/PI Application to ECtHR under Art. 34
- Witness Statement for application (Cindy Cohn, EFF)
- Witness Statement for application (Ian Brown, Oxford Internet Institute)
- Letter from ECtHR confirming case has been communicated to the Government
10 Human Rights Organisations v United Kingdom (no. 24960/15)
Following the Snowden disclosures, Privacy International filed a case in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, challenging the interception by the UK of vast quantities of electronic data on fibre optic cables, passing through the UK, and access to data intercepted in bulk by US authorities.
Nine other NGOs submitted similar complaints and the IPT subsequently joined the cases.
|Jul 2013||Initial submissions by Privacy International. Followed by submissions from other NGOs in the following months.|
|Dec 2014||First Investigatory Powers Tribunal judgment that both UK bulk interception and UK access to US bulk surveillance were lawful in principle.|
|Feb 2015||Second Investigatory Powers Tribunal judgment that the UK Government’s access to information gathered via US bulk surveillance was unlawful prior to the proceedings because the legal framework governing such access was secret.|
|Mar 2015||10 Human Rights Organisations filed application to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the UK’s bulk interception of internet traffic and access to information gathered by the US through bulk surveillance.|
|Apr 2015||10 Human Rights Organisations filed Additional Submissions to European Court of Human Rights on the Facts and Complaints.|
|22 Jun 2015||Third Investigatory Powers Tribunal judgment that the UK Government had conducted unlawful surveillance of two of the NGOs – Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Legal Resources Centre.|
|Jul 2015|| 10 Human Rights Organisations filed submissions to European Court of Human Rights in light of third Investigatory Powers Tribunal judgment. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal issues a letter to the 10 Human Rights Organisations correcting its Third judgment, clarifying that the finding that the UK Government had conducted unlawful surveillance of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, in fact, related to Amnesty International.
|Nov 2015||European Court of Human Rights issued Statement of Facts and Questions to Parties.|
|Apr 2016||UK Government filed Observations on merits.|
|Sep 2016||10 Human Rights Organisations filed a Reply to the UK Government and a Factual Appendix.|
|Dec 2016||UK Government filed further observations.|
|Sep 2017||Applicants filed Consolidated Observations for the Hearing (10 Human Rights Organisations application joined together with Big Brother Watch and Others v UK and Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v UK'.)|
|7 Nov 2017||European Court of Human Rights hearing.|
Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v United Kingdom (no. 62322/14)
Combined ECtHR Case
- ECtHR Press Release from first day of hearing (7 Nov 2017)
- ECtHR Webcast (Video)
- Big Brother Watch and Others v United Kingdom application documents
- 10 Human Rights Organisations and Others v United Kingdom application documents
- Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v United Kingdom application documents
- With thanks to Privacy International for much of the text in this section. Read their briefing here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4175751-Privacy-International-Legal-Briefing-10-Human.html