July 3, 2008
UK phone tap laws violated Article 8
ECHR rules UK law provided inadequate protection against abuse of power
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the interception of communications under the Interception of Communications Act 1985 violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees citizens a right to respect for their private and family life and correspondence.
In its judgment in a case brought by Liberty, British Irish Rights Watch and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties concerning the interception of their telephone, fax, email and data communications by the Ministry of Defence, the Court noted that the 1985 Act gave the authorities a “virtually unlimited” discretion to intercept communications sent or received from outside the UK and that, although s.6 of the Act obliged the Secretary of State to provide safeguards against abuse of power, the detail or nature of those safeguards was not available to the public. As a result, it held that domestic law provided inadequate protection against abuse of power and that the interceptions of the complainants’ communications were therefore not “in accordance with the law”, in violation of Article 8.
The ruling is likely to have implications for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which superseded the 1985 Act. The Home Office said that it would “carefully consider the judgment.”