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Regulatory Powers Act surveillance is ECHR compliant, court rules

21 May 2010

The rules on covert surveillance in the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 do not infringe the right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights, according to a ruling by European judges yesterday.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected a case by Malcolm Kennedy of London, who alleged that hs phone calls were being intercepted and disrupted, a claim the UK Government, as a matter of policy, would neither confirm nor deny.

Mr Kennedy became a campaigner against alleged miscarriages of justice after claiming that he was framed by police on being convicted of manslaughter in the early 1990s. He believed that a removals business he started following his release from prison suffered because his phone, mail and email were being intercepted. Subject access requests to MI5 and GCHQ were refused because the information requested was exempt from disclosure on grounds of national security.

The court upheld Mr Kennedy's right to complain, even though it had not been established that he was actually the subject of surveillance, since it could not be excluded that measures were being applied to him or that he was potentially at risk of such.

However it ruled that the interference in question pursued the legitimate aims of protecting national security and the economic wellbeing of the country and preventing crime. The Act defined with sufficient precision the cases in which communications could be intercepted, even though the offences allowing interception were not individually set out.

The overall duration of interception measures had to be left to the discretion of the domestic authorities, provided adequate safeguards were in place. The renewal or cancellation of interception warrants was under the systematic supervision of the Secretary of State, and the law provided that warrants related to one person or set of premises only.

The court also approved the safeguards on access to data in the Interception of Communications Code of Practice, and its requirements for secure handling and for security vetting.

It added that It said that the policy of UK authorities to neither confirm nor deny surveillance was proportionate and necessary.

Click here to view the court's judgment.

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