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Bureau of Investigative Journalism challenge UK Government over secret data collection

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism goes to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge mass data collection by the UK Government

European Court of Human Rights

15 September 2014

Leigh Day is representing The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights against the secret gathering of communications by the UK Government.

The Bureau is taking the challenge following revelations by the former CIA operative, Edward Snowden, that mass surveillance techniques used by the UK Government, for example Tempora, are unlawful as they fail to protect journalistic confidentiality.

They argue that the mass gathering of sensitive information could jeopardise investigations as journalists can no longer operate with any sense of confidentiality either pre or post publication or offer any level of anonymity to their sources.

A ruling in favour of the Bureau will force the UK government to review regulation around the mass collection of communications data.

The Bureau’s Christopher Hird says: “We understand why the government feels the need to have the power of interception.

“But our concern is that the existing regulatory regime to control the interception of communications data – such as phone calls and emails – by organisations such as GCHQ does not provide sufficient safeguards to ensure the protection of journalists’ sources, and as a result is a restriction on the operation of a free press.”

The Bureau is working with lawyers from Doughty Street chambers and law firm Leigh Day.

Rosa Curling at Leigh Day says: “Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass scale interception, collection, storage and analysis, by the UK government authorities, of emails and metadata sent between UK and non-UK servers fundamentally undermines the ability to operate a free press in this country.

“A fundamental precondition to press freedom in any democratic society is journalistic confidentiality. Journalists must be able to safeguard their sources and materials and keep information confidential until such time as they consider it appropriate and/or safe to publish it.

“The Tempora and other covert programmes disclosed by Snowden last year reveal that this key principle is currently being breached by the UK government. We have advised our client that the government’s failure to protect journalistic confidentiality is unlawful and an application to the European Court in Strasbourg has now been lodged.”

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