On Monday, the United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled that almost every UK surveillance agency — the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), MI5, MI6 included — went way out of bounds with their intrusions into British citizens’ privacy. For almost two decades, these and other UK agencies bulk-collected extremely personal data from everyone. If you live in the UK, that includes you. If you communicated with someone in the UK, that probably also includes you.
When Snowden first exposed such large-scale privacy violations in 2013, citizens of the world’s superpowers seemed as though they would get angry. After about a year, however, mass, unconstitutional surveillance was pretty much seen as the new normal. Some even went so far as to ask other, less submissive citizens what they had to hide. Now, the courts are coming around to make their own judgments, and — so far — it’s not pretty.
The UK tribunal found that the mass surveillance system, first reported by The Intercept last year, violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, from its launch in 1998 until its exposure in 2015. The human right in question: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” The bulk collections violated just about every facet of that article. No one’s right to privacy was respected. As Privacy International reports, almost every scrap of people’s personal data was included in the collection: “It includes, but is not limited to, visited websites, email contacts, to whom and where and when an email is sent, map searches, GPS location, and information about every device connected to every wifi network.”
Britain’s Investigatory Powers Bill is meant to patch up these egregious violations. It’s currently under legislative scrutiny, though it could become law in a matter of weeks. Critics of the bill still say it doesn’t go far enough, but Snowden’s officially done at least some concrete good in the world. Analogues of these surveillance programs exist in the United States, as Snowden also brought to light, but the analogous, recuperative measures have yet to materialize.
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