Britain denounced for massive spying operation

The British government has been strongly criticised by the European Court of Human Rights for illegally and secretly monitoring all electronic communications between Ireland and Britain for years.

The spying operation covers telephone calls, fax messages and e-mails in the period up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In a landmark ruling last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British government’s giant wiretap operation was not “in accordance with the law”. The mass covert surveillance was found to have violated privacy laws.

It said that Britain’s spying operation in Ireland did not provide adequate protection against abuse of power and conferred wide discretion to intercept and examine external communications.

The case was taken to the Strasbourg court by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and two British-based human rights organisations, Liberty and British-Irish Rights Watch. The groups protested that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights when their own correspondence was intercepted by British military intelligence between 1990 and 1997.

The ICCL case revolved around the interception and storing, by a British Ministry of Defence facility, of all telephone, fax, e-mail and data communications between Ireland and Britain. This included legally privileged and confidential information exchanged between the ICCL, Liberty, and British Irish Rights Watch.

Responding to the ruling, Sinn Féin Human Rights Spokesperson Aengus O Snodaigh TD called for an apology from the British government and for measures to ensure that the electronic eavesdropping is done with.

“The British power of interception was, according to the European Court of Human Rights ruling, ‘virtually unlimited’ and they may also have intercepted commercially sensitive data putting them in a position to undermine the economy of our small state.

“Brian Cowen must raise this issue with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the earliest opportunity. He must demand an apology from the British government and a legally enforceable confirmation that the blanket interception of communications between the citizens of Ireland and Britain is at an end.

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