back to article Bulk surveillance is always bad, say human rights orgs appealing against top Euro court

A band of human rights organisations have appealed against a top European court's ruling on bulk surveillance, arguing that any form of mass spying breaches rights to privacy and free expression. The group, which includes Liberty, Privacy International and the American Civil Liberties Union, has taken issue with parts of a …

  1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Not sure about the logic

    If I follow properly, the two points that are being argued don't track very well. It seems that conflating intelligence sharing with bulk surveillance does not accurately define what each is. It also seems that positing that bulk surveillance can never be lawful is like saying that there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't.

    The biggest issues I see with any surveillance program are lack of oversight and transparency which have lead to a variety of abuses. I know that doesn't present much as to how to address shortcomings, and the rewards may not justify the investment, but getting such programs dragged out into the sunlight would seem to stand a better chance of happening than getting governments to stop spying altogether.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

      There is, I've said it many times once you take away all privacy say goodbye to your liberty. If you think election manipulation worked with Trump just wait till the secret services get fully on the band wagon if they already aren't. Then the protesters who legally protest will be up against the wall. Then anyone that disagrees with "popular" or should I say government mandated opinion. It's a slippery slope we are already on and never before in history (other than to a small extent with war propaganda) has so much information or opportunities to manipulate been available.

      I'll give you an example, the BBC have your say comments section, is it reporting popular opinion or is it manipulating it? People have a habit of following the herd and if you chip away long enough without being obvious it's not difficult to change someones mind.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

        There is and there isn't.

        First, let's include commercial spying, aka data harvesting, in the mix. What "right to privacy" applies to NSA and GCHQ that does not apply to Facebook and Google?

        Next there is the POPD - Plain Old Physical Domain. What "right to privacy" does online trawling breach, that a telescope on a pier above a crowded beach does not?

        And what "right to privacy" should override the right not to get abused by a paedophile, rapist or terrorist?

        I am not saying there are no such rights (for example trawling the 'net often reveals an ID that the telescope seldom does), but I am saying that a lot of BS is spouted by rights activists.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

          First, let's include commercial spying, aka data harvesting, in the mix. What "right to privacy" applies to NSA and GCHQ that does not apply to Facebook and Google?

          It should apply to both, but equally FB/Google don't have the powers to alter your life like gov agencies do.

          Next there is the POPD - Plain Old Physical Domain. What "right to privacy" does online trawling breach, that a telescope on a pier above a crowded beach does not?

          That is pretty much targeted - one beach, and a given time-window when you might expect something is going to happen. The police, etc, have been doing that sort of thing for decades and most folk see it as a perfectly reasonable balance between privacy and crime prevention.

          Bulk surveillance is recording every beach, all the time, and then being able to do a search at some point for where you have been. See the difference?

          1. steelpillow Silver badge

            Re: there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

            "Bulk surveillance is recording every beach, all the time, and then being able to do a search at some point for where you have been. See the difference?"

            Oh, you mean like security cameras in shopping areas? The ones they trawl back through to catch paedophiles, rapists and terrorists?

            No, I don't see the difference, or at least, not that difference. (I noted a different difference already - got that?)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

              @steelpillow

              Upload your whole browsing history and emails you have ever sent to pastbin. While you're at it upload all purchases you have ever made via a bank card or using a reward card.

              K.K.thanks. didn't think so.

              I'm sure you have nothing to hide of course though I bet I could find something incriminating. They call me cardinal richelieu

          2. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

            "It should apply to both, but equally FB/Google don't have the powers to alter your life like gov agencies do."

            I think they do, though. Or at least they come reasonably close to it, in the US, anyway.

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't

          "What "right to privacy" applies to NSA and GCHQ that does not apply to Facebook and Google?"

          None, which is the biggest part of why I consider these companies to be unacceptable.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Not sure about the logic

      "It also seems that positing that bulk surveillance can never be lawful is like saying that there is an absolute right to privacy, which there isn't."

      How so? They aren't saying that no surveillance is acceptable (which would imply an absolute right to privacy), they're saying that speculatively spying on everyone is unacceptable.

      "The biggest issues I see with any surveillance program are lack of oversight and transparency which have lead to a variety of abuses."

      Those are big issues, but proper oversight and transparency by themselves are insufficient. An important part is also the minimization of data collection to the greatest degree possible while still allowing for an acceptable level of law enforcement.

  2. David Shaw
    Go

    Problem as I see it, from an insider point of view, having openly had an ILETS IUR briefing at ETSI TC Lawful Interception, is that there just wasn’t really that great a demand from the majority of the police forces that the spooks were insisting were requiring Retained Data or society would end

    It seemingly was a blatant grab for power, as Professor Susan Landau argues in her book “surveillance or security” she mentions that the FBI used to just see a handful of miscreants using hard-good-crypto end-to-end, and that these were easily solved by compromising one of the end terminals.

    Obviously the spooks need our data, and have persuaded politicos to make broad laws, been found over-takeing nonetheless, which gave blowback so everything is now fairly well encrypted. At least the agencies are arguing the cases in parliaments/court, which is nice to see. Is the R.D. nowadays even shared with the police, or just still in a few percent of cases?

  3. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Symbol of the philosophy behind it

    Bulk surveillance is a sign of the laziness and incompetence of the bureaucratic bumblers behind intel agencies. Doing surveillance of actual specific threats is hard. It's a lot easier to treat everyone as a threat and when the inevitable happens work your way backwards from the info you already have.

    Lazy pencil-pushers deserve no sympathy.

    1. GnuTzu Bronze badge

      Re: Symbol of the philosophy behind it

      Surely, there is "laziness and incompetence" (up voted), but there is also zeal and patriotism--which is ill founded in the free world when violating rights, and there is the fundamental problem of results and limited budget, which is the most legitimate argument--though still inadequate. Yet, they (you know who) don't admit to these things, so there is also a fundamental dishonesty and hypocrisy.

      1. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge

        Re: Symbol of the philosophy behind it

        Limited budget? There has never been a case over the past 70 years where western intel agencies have been starved on budget. Starved of imagination, sure. Starved of talent, definitely. Starved of morality, ooh you betcha. But money, nope not ever.

    2. Cavanuk

      Re: Symbol of the philosophy behind it

      Such an accusation is itself lazy thinking. How do you determine who is the threat in the first place? Many recent terrorist attacks have been carried out by people unknown to security services.

      You can object to mass interception on privacy grounds but it is not lazy. It's the logical way of catching those who may be viewing extremist material online and communicating with extremists overseas.

  4. Neoc
    Trollface

    "The court considered three aspects of the UK's spying laws, and the first two were found to have breached the European Convention on Human Rights: ..."

    Hey guys, I think I've finally figured why Brexit is going ahead despite all the bullshit...!

    1. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      @Neoc

      It's easy and rather common to mix between the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Justice.

      Leaving the EU will not change that relation any more than the Belfast agreement, unless you are like Boris and say - "it's not a big deal".

      Trying to find an "intelligent" reason to finance Brexit (feelings beside and Putin beside) and looking for a return for the money, perhaps in here somewhere. And well, I also know the attraction of conspiracy theories.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=np_ylvc8Zj8

      The Spider's Web: Britain's Second Empire (Documentary)

      And say hello to Cameron, the man with the world leading staunch, steadfast and sturdy face and voice.

      No, he is not the villain in that documentary.

  5. SNAFUology
    Black Helicopters

    So it's Surveillance Versus Intelligence

    How does an agent now-a-days go about & communicate with their agency if photo-ID can recognize faces, if bulk surveillance sees everything. Ultimately you will have to have someone in the know say oh don't you worry about them we'll handle that, and if you are having many hits per day this will be a pain-in-the-ass.

    Not so much or a problem exactly at this time, but soon.

    Oh and wouldn't it be better for all if one didn't wack the killer wasps nest in the first place?!

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Bigger haystacks with lots of pins

      Can make finding the target needle harder with added distraction of lots more "pins" (false positives).

      In the UK there have been plenty of cases of "X was known to the security services" - where X committed a terrorist act, this includes cases where warning came from the local community of X (OK, sometimes accusations can be malicious due to personal / business reasons, but need looking at thoroughly just in case) as surprise, surprise (taking one community example) not all Muslims are extremists and so will report someone who seems to be a bit ISIS or whatever. Given the UK security services are not bursting at the seams with people who could most easily act undercover in Islamic terror circles (BAME likely to have an easier time than a "white", whereas back in the day with Irish terrorism, infiltration (e.g. stakeknife), turning etc. was far easier given the ethnicity, cultural background and language skills of most of security services).

      I'm of the opinion that already the security services are already overwhelmed with "chatter" and most likely benefit of "log it all" will be in investigations in the aftermath of an "uncaught" terrorist event.

      Maybe a bit more focus on HUMINT rather than SIGINT

  6. PapaD

    Street cameras vs bulk surveilance

    Hmm

    I'm a little confused as to why someone can't tell the difference between being observed 100% of the time when i'm in public (where, likely, i shall be most likely doing things that i don't mind other people seeing me doing, cos i'm in public - and would quite like to have criminals caught out because they are doing things they don't want others to see, also in public) and with someone monitoring 100% of what I do when i'm in the privacy of my own home, on my own PC - where i should feel safe to do the legal things i'd like to do that, despite being 100% legal, i'd still like to keep private.

    I feel like this is a slightly more nuanced version of 'if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear' which totally fails to take into account that i do have something to hide, which is why i don't walk around in public naked - i wear clothes, even when the weather is awesome and totally suited to nudity.

    Having something to hide doesn't mean the something is illegal, just private.

    I'm personally of the opinion that anyone who says "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear'" should be forced to publish every aspect of their life (active webcams in every room of their house, broadcasting all the time - total access to their bank accounts to everyone, all their bills, browsing history and 100% of their life totally viewable by anyone at any time.)

    Tbh, i'd be less concerned by the IPB if only GCHQ and the police could access the details, and only with a warrant. As it is, it is accessible by almost anyone in government (or even NGO/QUANGO's) without any warrant at all.

  7. gnarlymarley

    fire hose

    Bulk surveillance is like drinking from a fire hose. When you get too much, it is much harder to find the impurities in the water. The more data is collected, the more the real criminals go free. If we want real security, we would try to limit the data so the bad guys could be caught.

    1. Cavanuk

      Re: fire hose

      With automation, that's not true at all.

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