back to article Snowden was right, rules human rights court as it declares UK spy laws broke ECHR

Surveillance laws permitting GCHQ to operate its Tempora dragnet mass surveillance system broke the law, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled. The judgment, handed down this morning in Strasbourg, vindicates the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013. The former NSA contractor revealed that Western spy agencies had been …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wankers.

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      Boffin

      No, you are.

    2. Kane Silver badge
      Big Brother

      "Wankers."

      You see, it's non-contextual comments like that that get you not only downvotes but also confusion. Who are the wankers in this scenario. The UK Gov? GCHQ? ECtHR? Liberty? Privacy International? EDRi?

      Prying eyes minds would like to know...

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Really? I mean, Rule 34 and all that, but porn certainly has gotten esoteric if people are getting that excited about an ECHR judgement.

  2. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Always listening to our customers

    I can understand the motives - wanting to get all the information possible and then trawl through it to find information useful for 'protecting the public', but the issue is that if you do that there is temptation to find something, anything, to justify the mass data grab in the first place (otherwise you might not be allowed to do it again).

    The problem is that 'the State' often considers itself, and its survival to be 'the public interest' and that any activities considered to be even potentially attacking 'the state' or current members of the hierarchy constitute 'subversives' who 'need' to be watched and targeted. They need to remember who coined the phrase 'you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide'*.

    (Big Brother icon for the obvious reason.)

    *It was the NAZIs.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Always listening to our customers

      In reality, except, for example, in militaristic dictatorships, the "State" doesn't have a concrete reality at all. Unless implemented by coercion, it's no more than a convention grounded in the common consent of the populace.

      There is however a danger that those entrusted by that common consent with managing the national interest come to confuse that with their own personal interests. The ultimate result is dictatorship of the worst kind - bureaucratic dictatorship, which is faceless and thus impossible to negotiate with. The saddest aspects of this are that those responsible commonly believe that they're acting for the common good and they close their eyes to unintended consequences.

    2. idiot taxpayer here again

      Re: Always listening to our customers

      @Eclectic Man

      Sorry mate but it was used much earlier. In 1917 or 1918. It was in a book written by a journalist called Upton Sinclair. The book was called, if I can remember my rebellious student days correctly,The profits of religion (or something like that, it was a long time ago) and I thought it was a pile of crap.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Always listening to our customers

        Yep, "The Profits of Religion", 1917. However, it's worth bearing in mind that that book, along with the others in the series, were a satirical attack on various American institutions, and the way people blindly accepted them and the problems they caused. People are likely to be more familiar with his book "The Jungle", which single-handledly halved the sales of meat in the US (obviously only in the short term; people have short memories) when it exposed the exploitation in that industry. The whole point of the quote about having nothing to fear was that it was supposed to be a bad thing - the protagonist was complaining about having all his communications read by the authorities, and the faceless bureaucracy simply didn't care, giving that as the reply.

        So it's worth remembering both the origin and its later use. Originally, it was a criticism of exactly the type of spying that Snowden was upset about, and it's tacit acceptance by both the government and the people. Later, it was adopted by the Nazis who took that sort of warning as an instruction manual on how to oppress people. Which gives us something of an object lesson - if you ignore warnings about surveillance and the ignoring of human rights, you risk ending up with people thinking that's how things are supposed to work, and at the extreme, Nazis.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: Always listening to our customers

          OK, thanks folks. I'm currently reading Margery Allingham's "The Crime at Black Dudley", having just finished "The Tyranny of Merit" by Michael J Sandel (both rather good, actually). I'll see if I can get "The Profits of religion" from the library. Although some have interpreted the phrase "coining a phrase" to mean using it, rather than inventing it, but I take your point. Sadly it seems I am not as knowledgeable as I thought I was :o(

    3. Mooseman Silver badge

      Re: Always listening to our customers

      The irony is, of course, that mass surveillance yields basically nothing unless you have the vast manpower to read and monitor everything you collect. The killers of Lee Rigby, for example, were known to be a risk and were being monitored by MI5 etc - phone taps, emails read etc - and yet they were able to hatch and carry out their plot without hindrance. The Paris terrorists communicated by that most secure of methods, SMS.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Always listening to our customers

        The point isn't to identify specific risks in advance, it's to have dirt on everyone in case they become leader of the opposition or complain to the local councils about potholes

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Always listening to our customers

        Mooseman, nobody actually needs to read through it all, any more than anyone has to read through all the information available on the Internet to find out what they want to know. You program a computer to do the searching and filtering.

        And while terrorists and criminals will often encrypt, obfuscate and/or disguise their communications, businessmen and politicians usually don't, allowing the interceptor to gather lucrative insider information about big companies, and all sorts of useful information that can be used to influence/blackmail politicians and political decisions.

        1. Mooseman Silver badge

          Re: Always listening to our customers

          "You program a computer to do the searching and filtering"

          Except that clearly doesn't work. A computer will search for what it's told to search for, so if the people being monitored have half a brain they will use coded references rather than the trigger phrases. The danger with mass surveillance is of course that nobody seems to be accountable for either the monitoring process or the results of that surveillance.

          Who oversees what GCHQ et al is doing? Clearly not the government (MI5 was said to have been monitoring Harold Wilson when he was PM), or at least not parliament - what our current government get up to is anyone's guess.

          Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      3. Pseudononymous Coward
        Big Brother

        Re: Always listening to our customers

        This wasn't even true before the invention of computers and self-learning pattern recognition algorithms. For instance, if you discover Winston Smith doesn't love Big Brother any more you can go through his stored back traffic and arrest his correspondents too.

        And if you think mass surveillance is about finding the odd lone wolf paedoterrorist needle in a multiverse of haystacks, then the Minitruth propaganda is definitely working.

    4. staringatclouds

      Re: Always listening to our customers

      "Give me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough in them to hang him."

      - Cardinal Richelieu

    5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Always listening to our customers

      If you have access to masses of private communications & other data, and the means to run it through complex algorithms, there is also a huge temptation to search for things that will make you money or give you power rather than merely things that are a threat to the country. And if the whole process is secret, there is little risk of being caught doing so, and so the probability of it *not* being used for those things is practically zero.

      Data is power. Power corrupts.

  3. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    WTF?

    So basically

    TL:DR

    A moral victory but essentially pyrrhic?

    They'll carry on what they are doing and they are very sorry, but business as usual Guvnor?

    All seems to be making a point but without any actual useful outcome.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: So basically

      "All seems to be making a point but without any actual useful outcome."

      Correct you are! But this whole exercise surely paid lots of people lots of money, and looks good on their CV. If you call that useful outcome...

      Remember Gordon 10 in your report!

      Big Brother icon because he's probably here in the dungeons of El Reg Forums and Comments taking notes.

    2. Robert D Bank

      Re: So basically

      Precisely, even more in context of this:

      https://www.theregister.com/2015/12/16/big_brother_born_ntac_gchq_mi5_mass_surveillance_data_slurping/

      not even health records are sacred it seems

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Can we do it? Hell yes!

    May we do it? Er, apparently not. But let's just do it anyway.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    "Big Brother icon because he's probably here in the dungeons of El Reg Forums and Comments taking notes."

    I suspect the clerks in MI5 have been replaced by an AI that looks for key words and phrases now but I would expect most comments sections and forums to be viewed regularly in some way.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Big Brother

      As the Register is a public web site, and access to the fora* is open to all, I do not doubt that a lot of 'security services' read it daily, indeed someone probably has it on their job description to monitor what we (the commentarderie) are posting.

      So, umm, 'hello' and 'good evening' to all the spooks. :o)

      *fora is the latin plural of "forum', I'm trying to be erudite for once, as I understand the British spooks are mostly recruited from Oxford and Cambridge university classics and history toffs.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Big Brother

        To quote the late David Frost,

        "Hello, good evening and welcome"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So, umm, 'hello' and 'good evening' to all the spooks. :o)

        I'm afraid it's just spooky bots, rather than spooks themselves...

      3. Evil Auditor Silver badge
        Big Brother

        So, umm, 'hello' and 'good evening' to all the spooks.

        If you want to address them personally, you'll have to incorporate some trigger phrases in your post. And I shall refrain from using such words, for now.

        1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

          Which proves the argument that surveillance surpresses freedom of expression.

        2. Kane Silver badge
          Big Brother

          "If you want to address them personally, you'll have to incorporate some trigger phrases in your post. And I shall refrain from using such words, for now."

          That's okay, I'll help with that! Here's Mark Thomas back in 1999 flying over Menwith Hill in a hot air balloon chatting to his mum on a mobile phone. Because he's cheeky like that.

          (Video set to the appropriate timestamp, but it's worth a watch all the way through).

          1. Korev Silver badge

            I remember that episode, you could even register for Menwtih Hill flights with him on a website. I'm still waiting for my tour though...

        3. Rol Silver badge

          So what your saying, lipstick round the nipples, is that, huge titties, I might, enormous penis, accidentally give away, big wobbly breasts, what nefarious things I'm up to on the internet, by analysing key words and phrases in my, Freudian gymslip, mutterings?

          Interesting. I'll keep that in mind in future.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            you forgot pig, conservative, rent boy for example. Not sure what all the corporate terms are for getting the best unchallenged contracts...

          2. TheProf Silver badge

            Word Association Football

            Sorry but your post reminded me of this.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBkUhBs_1II

          3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
            Gimp

            most probably those are just the type of phrases that are flying around the ether at Westminster

            "MPs blocked from ogling 'web smut' 300,000 times – while in Parliament"

            https://www.theregister.com/2013/09/04/mps_binge_on_smut_theyre_trying_to_ban/

        4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Someone I used to know a long time ago used to pepper his emails with phrases like

          "I was bombing along the Queen's highway"

          by which he meant that he was making rapid progress in his jalopy

        5. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          you'll have to incorporate some trigger phrases in your post

          That's the fun, yes? When the NSA's CARNIVORE program became public, some years ago, I added the following to my collection of Usenet signatures:1

          Distracted by the music of Anthrax, I let my bin, laden with goods, crash into a bush.

          I tried to work a few more triggers in but couldn't get them into a single sentence without it becoming awkward.

          1I had a little script that used fortune(1) to select among sig quotes, and I'd run in under vi with a !! command.

      4. Rol Silver badge

        "as I understand the British spooks are mostly recruited from Oxford and Cambridge university classics and history toffs."

        So, basically, culled from the very strata of society most keen to maintain the status quo.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          That must be changing though.

          When all British spies were recruited by tutors who themselves worked for the KGB, are all Oxbridge tutors now recruiting for Al Qaeda ? Can you tell because they don't drink sherry?

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: tutors who themselves worked for the KGB

            Well, I dunno, I mean Dame Mary Beard is not exactly a rabid Tory, but I didn't think she was on Vladimir's payroll. <Sigh> you can't trust anyone these days, next we'll discover that Dominic Cummings is real, and not fictional after all.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: tutors who themselves worked for the KGB

              >Dame Mary Beard is not exactly a rabid Tory, but I didn't think she was on Vladimir's payroll.

              I think she is only recruiting agents for the BBC

              Of course it may be that senior tutors don't watch the news and are still busy recruiting agents for the NKVD and are a little worried that the nice Mr Trotsky hasn't published much recently

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      A Few Questions for GCHQ Cell Prisoners

      Is there a key to unlock the cage that is riddled with mysteries that capture the enigma that defends the indefensible or is it the logical fate of all those so captivated to suffer the slings and arrows of great and ever greater misfortune and never to be free from persecution and prosecution?

      Does common sense tell one that the root of all evil is planted and would grow wild in those fields with actors which imagine they are exempt from government and national security and secret intelligence service surveillance? And how certifiably crazy would that sort of exemption be, encouraging as it most certainly could and therefore would, all manner of mostly unpleasant and foolish shenanigans.

      Do honourable Members of Parliament receive/believe they receive that right dodgy privilege?

      Do National Security and Secret Intelligence Services grant and entertain it?

    3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      "

      I suspect the clerks in MI5 have been replaced by an AI that looks for key words and phrases now

      "

      A lot more sophisticated than merely looking for key words and phrases. It's capable of correllating thousands of communications looking for connections and reactions. Reactions to statements and contrived events can be analysed in real time, allowing instant adjustments to the propaganda etc. to cause a desired outcome.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: MI5 have been replaced by an AI that looks for key words and phrases now

        A lot more sophisticated than merely looking for key words and phrases. It's capable of correllating thousands of communications looking for connections and reactions. Reactions to statements and contrived events can be analysed in real time, allowing instant adjustments to the propaganda etc. to cause a desired outcome......Cynic_999

        And still a novel work in the primary stages of unprecedented stealthy progress, Cynic_999, as one would surely expect, given the spooky nature of the ProgramMING Project and ITs AIgents.

        Holywood Loughside Palace Barracks Operations trumping Hollywood Hills Rodeo Drive Abortions is a resultant cryptic analysis and pronouncement on that body of securely secreted evidence .... which is encouraging, given the dire straits state and consequences of such earlier defaulted flash crash bang wallop Wild West fiat capital drivers.

        Whatever next, El Reg ‽ ..... The Inexorable Rise of Virtual Machine Movements with Augmented Virtually Real IT Movies to Follow for/from TitanICQ Film Studios ‽ :-)

        And little something ESPecial too for the 3rd Floor Alfred House

  6. steelpillow Silver badge
    Boffin

    Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

    Interesting to see that "France, the Netherlands and Norway all formally supported the UK". Norway, note, shares with the UK its non-membership of the EU but founder membership of the even longer-standing and wider-ranging Council of Europe - and hence subject to the European Court of Human Rights. So we see a genuinely pan-European debate unfolding.

    When we read the details, it is really just fine-print dickering about what constitutes adequate precautions against abuse; all are agreed that bulk slurping is fine in principle.

    Suppose hypothetically that some analyst in GCHQ is caught spying on their ex and new partner. They get summarily sacked, literally frogmarched to the door - end of career, period. Has the regime failed because they were able to somehow evade the system safeguards and do that, or has it worked because the system laid an audit trail which led to them being caught and made an example of?

    Fun and games for all the family.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

      Yes Wash. Upvoting for having such good taste.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

        thanks for the link, that was bloody funny!

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

          Try watching the whole Firefly series, then.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Flame

    "dragnet surveillance laws"

    The problem lies right in the title : dragnet.

    No fine-tuning, no discrimination, just violate everyone's privacy and hope you find something. After all, you're The Law. The good guy. Except when you abuse your powers to check on your wife, which is sooo easy to do. Just rewatch True Lies.

    I would like, nay, I demand, a report on how many times this global violation of privacy has resulted in stopping crime, let alone terrorism.

    If you could prove, without doubt, that raping my privacy has stopped significantly more criminals than you could have without it, then I might rethink my attitude on that.

    But you won't, because you cannot actually justify any concrete benefit.

    1. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

      Re: "dragnet surveillance laws"

      Honestly, I'm pretty sure they'll have found dumb idiots sharing "dodgy" stuff and dodgy tyrant businessmen with shady deals.

      But we've seen plenty of admin staff fired for stalking their ex partners messaging data. It was not exactly a one off event...

    2. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: "dragnet surveillance laws"

      A fundamental principle of effective intelligence gathering is "if you're looking for a needle in a haystack, don't unnecessarily increase the size of the haystack".

      Good intelligence is focused and depends on cumulative building of a meaningful jigsaw puzzle. The scatter gun approach is wasteful of effort and can lead to red herrings right left and centre. However it feels like it's "being effective" to agencies populated by individuals with a profound distrust of the motives of everyone outside the agency. I've noted this variety of paranoia in quite a few senior incumbents of non-political government agency positions and it propagates downwards to drive the entire agency culture.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UK has one of the most robust and transparent oversight regimes

    where the oversighters oversee the oversighted

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