British Parliament is seen in London, Britain, on March 27, 2020. Tuesday's ruling was the latest turn in a legal challenge to data gathering methods by British intelligence agency GCHQ. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
May 25 (UPI) -- The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that a British intelligence agency unlawfully collected phone calls, text messages and online communications from citizens over the course of years.
The court said methods used by the Government Communications Headquarters to intercept online communications violated privacy and fundamental human rights. The Strasbourg, France-based court is an international court that interprets the European Convention on Human Rights.
The legal challenge to CGHQ's collection methods began in 2013 after the revelations from U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden amid heightened concerns that the government was taking too much latitude in monitoring Britons.
The court said in its ruling Tuesday that the bulk interception of data didn't violate the European Convention on Human Rights, but also did not provide protections for confidential material of journalists.
The court also said CGHQ's sharing of digital intelligence information with foreign governments was not illegal.
Big Brother Watch and other human rights advocates took the case to the ECHR after revelations of the agency's methods were made by Snowden, a former U.S. defense contractor who leaked similar information about the National Security Agency in 2013.
In 2018, the court upheld some of the complaints, but Big Brother Watch and the other parties wanted a stronger ruling and appealed to the court's grand chamber.
The ECHR said the data gathering process should be subject to "end-to-end safeguards" to prevent possible abuse and that bulk interception should require independent authorization. The court added that the operation also should have an independent review after it concludes.
Some of the court's 17 judges said the ruling should have had more restrictions.
Judge Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque of Portugal said the ruling opened the gates for an electronic "Big Brother" in Europe. Three other judges disagreed that the sharing of sensitive digital intelligence with foreign governments was not illegal.
The dissenting judges said the court had "missed an excellent opportunity to fully uphold the importance of private life and correspondence when faced with interference in the form of mass surveillance."