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Home Human Rights Archive for category "Right To Privacy/Family Life"

Intelligence Sharing and the Right to Privacy after the European Court Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 24, 2018        Author: 
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On 13 September 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in three consolidated cases brought by 14 human rights organisations and 2 individuals against the UK government’s mass interception program and its access to the intelligence gathered by other governments, including the United States (Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.)

As noted already by Marko Milanovic, these cases are nuanced, complex, and long. I intend to focus here on one aspect, namely the way the Court assessed the intelligence sharing claim brought by the applicants (paras 416-449.) This assessment is noteworthy as that claim presents an issue of first impression for the Court. As the judgment itself notes, “this is the first time that the Court has been asked to consider the Convention compliance of an intelligence sharing regime” (para 416). (It is worth noting, however, that the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08 also touches upon this issue.)

The applicants’ intelligence sharing claim centred on the revelations, contained in disclosures by Edward Snowden, that the UK government has access to information collected by other foreign intelligence agencies, and most notably the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). In particular, these revelations suggest that the UK government has direct and unfettered access to raw data intercepted by other governments, which it can then filter, store, analyse and further disseminate. They further suggest that the UK government has similarly broad access to information stored in databases by other governments.

From a human rights law perspective, the fundamental question raised in this case is the nature of the interference and therefore the applicable test to apply to such interference. Read the rest of this entry…

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ECtHR Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 17, 2018        Author: 
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Last week the European Court of Human Rights issued a highly anticipated blockbuster Chamber judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.

This is the first mass electronic surveillance case to be decided against the UK after the Edward Snowden revelations, and it touches upon numerous issues. The judgment is nuanced, complex, and long. It addresses key questions such as the proportionality of bulk interception programmes much more directly and with greater sophistication than the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08, which was decided by a different Chamber while this case was being deliberated, and which also upheld a bulk surveillance programme (see here for Asaf Lubin’s take on Just Security).

The judgment is too rich to summarize easily, so I will only set out some key takeaways (for an extensive discussion on surveillance and privacy in the digital age, see my 2015 Harvard ILJ piece).

First, and most importantly, the judgment is a mixed bag for privacy activists: while the Court finds that the UK’s surveillance programme under the now-defunct Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was deficient in important respects and in violation of Article 8 and 10 of the Convention, it at the same time normalizes such mass surveillance programmes. In particular, the Court decided that bulk interception programmes are not categorically disproportionate, as privacy activists have argued. Second, in a similar vein, the Court finds that prior judicial authorization is not indispensable for the legality of bulk interception, again contrary to what privacy activists have argued, even if prior judicial authorization could be seen as best practice (note that under the new 2016 Investigatory Powers Act the UK has moved to a double-authorization system which involves both a minister and an independent quasi-judicial commissioner).

Here are the key paragraphs (warning – extracts from the judgment make this a lengthy post):

Read the rest of this entry…

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European Court of Justice Bans Homosexuality Tests for Asylum Seekers

Published on May 1, 2018        Author: 
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Asylum seekers in European Union countries will no longer be subject to psychological tests to prove their homosexuality, according to a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 25 January 2018. In F v. Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal, the ECJ declared the illegality of the use of psychological reports based on projective personality tests in determining sexual orientation of asylum seekers.

The asylum applicant, a Nigerian man identified as F, sought asylum in Hungary, arguing that he has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his homosexuality. The Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal (Office for Immigration and Citizenship of Hungary, hereinafter “Immigration Office”) rejected his asylum application. While the Immigration Office concluded that F’s application was not “fundamentally contradictory,” the Immigration Office found that F’s statement about his homosexuality “lacked credibility” based on one psychologist’s report (para. 22). F appealed this decision to a Hungarian court, and the case was eventually referred to the ECJ.

The “expert report” at issue in the case was produced by a psychologist after an investigative examination, which involved several basic projective personality tests, including the “Draw-A-Person-In-The-Rain” test and the Rorschach and Szondi tests. Upon completing the tests, the psychologist concluded that F’s homosexuality could not be confirmed.

The ECJ ruled that EU law does not prohibit authorities or courts from ordering the production of an expert report to help assess the facts and circumstances relative to an asylum seeker’s claim, but only if the production of the report is consistent with human rights law and the report is not relied upon solely or conclusively. The Court further held that EU law precludes the preparation and use of a psychological expert’s report based on projective personality tests to determine an individual’s sexual orientation when assessing an asylum claim sought by the individual on the ground of sexual orientation. Read the rest of this entry…

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The IACtHR Advisory Opinion: one step forward or two steps back for LGBTI rights in Costa Rica?

Published on February 27, 2018        Author: 
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On 9th January 2018, the IACtHR issued Advisory Opinion No. 24 on gender identity, equality and non-discrimination for same-sex couples, a ground-breaking decision for the advancement of LGBTI rights in the Americas. However, the adverse effect it had on the recent presidential elections in Costa Rica may jeopardise this achievement.

The Advisory Opinion was requested by Costa Rica in 2016. the IACtHR was called to clarify the interpretation and scope of several articles of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in relation to the following questions:

  1. Considering that gender identity is a protected category within the American Convention, does the state have an obligation to recognise and facilitate the change of name of individuals in accordance with their own gender identity?
  2. If so, is the judicial procedure for the change of name, instead of an administrative one, contrary to the American Convention?
  3. According to the American Convention, is the current Costa Rican judicial procedure for the change of name not applicable to individuals who wish to change their name based on their gender identity? Should they rather be given the possibility of resorting to a free, fast and accessible administrative procedure?
  4. Considering the duty not to discriminate on the basis sexual orientation, should the State recognize all patrimonial rights deriving from a same-sex relationship?
  5. If so, is it necessary for the State to establish a legal institution regulating the legal status of same-sex couples, and to recognise all patrimonial rights stemming from such relationships?

In response to the first three questions, the IACtHR recalled its jurisprudence on the matter (e.g. Atala Riffo and Daughters v Chile and Duque v Colombia) and strongly confirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories under the American Convention. Read the rest of this entry…

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Barbulescu v Romania: Why There is no Room for Complacency When it Comes to Privacy Rights in the Workplace

Published on September 26, 2017        Author: 
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For some privacy advocates, the decision earlier this month of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Barbulescu v Romania was another milestone in the pursuit of greater protection for employee privacy. Reversing a decision of the Fourth Section last year, the Court held that the monitoring of an employee’s Yahoo Messenger account breached his right to respect for private life in Article 8. While it would be churlish to contradict such claims, this is no time for complacency.

Mr. Barbulescu was a sales engineer working for a private company in Romania. The company in question prohibited the use of its equipment (including the internet) for personal use – a policy it robustly enforced with dismissals for transgressors – facts which Mr. Barbulescu was made aware of. At his employer’s request, Mr. Barbulescu opened a Yahoo Messenger Account in order to communicate with customers. He was subsequently told that this account had been monitored, revealing that it had been used for personal purposes. When Mr. Barbulescu denied this claim, he was presented with a transcript of the content of his messages. These included exchanges with his brother and his fiancé, some of which were of an intimate nature. Mr. Barbulescu was fired. He challenged his dismissal in the domestic courts alleging that it breached his right to private life. Those claims were dismissed and Mr. Barbulescu brought his case to Strasbourg. Read the rest of this entry…

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Challenging Gender Stereotyping before the ECtHR: Case of Carvalho Pinto v. Portugal

Published on September 21, 2017        Author: 
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On 25 July 2017, the ECtHR delivered an important judgment on discrimination, condemning ageist and sexist assumptions made in the reasoning of the domestic court. In this post, I will share my observations about the novelty of the case and its contribution to the case-law of the ECtHR.

Facts and Judgment in short

The applicant, suffering from a gynaecological disease, underwent surgery during which her left pudendal nerve was injured as a result of medical malpractice. Following discharge from hospital, she began to experience intense pain and loss of sensation in the vagina, urinary incontinence, difficulty walking and sitting, and she could not have sexual relations. In the lawsuit she filed, the Lisbon Administrative Court awarded her a sum of compensation for pecuniary damage, covering inter alia the service of a maid for household tasks which she was unable to carry out, and non-pecuniary damages for the physical and mental suffering she experienced. However, at the appeal, the Supreme Administrative Court (Hereinafter: SAC) reduced the amounts awarded for both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages on account of three reasons set out as the following:

  1. The applicant’s complaints had only been aggravated following the surgery but they were not new;
  2. She probably only needed to take care of her husband, given the age of her children, and did not require a full-time maid; and
  3. The applicant, who had two children, was already 50 years old, an age when sex was not as important as in younger years and that its significance diminished with age.

In its judgment, the Strasbourg Court drew similarities between the applicant’s case and two other judgments concerning medical malpractice experienced by two men at the ages of 55 and 59, who became impotent and incontinent as a result of medical error in operations they underwent. The ECtHR observed that in those judgments, the SAC did not find the amounts awarded excessive, considering the “tremendous shock” or “strong mental shock” experienced by plaintiffs who would suffer irreversible consequences to their sex lives. Contrary to the applicant’s case, the SAC had taken into account neither the plaintiffs’ age nor whether they had any children in these similar cases.

In the decision the ECtHR stated that the general assumption relied on by the domestic court that sexuality was no longer important for a fifty-year-old woman derived from the traditional understanding of female sexuality, essentially linked to reproduction. The Court also noted the patriarchal understanding of the Supreme Court revealed by the assumption that the applicant was responsible to “take care of her husband”. The ECtHR found that the Supreme Court’s decision was not based on objective assessment of facts but on the wrongful gender stereotyping and eventually, by five votes to two, decided that there was a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) read together with Article 8 (right to respect for private life). Read the rest of this entry…

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How to Bridge the Gap? Corporate and Government Surveillance Examined at the UN

Published on December 7, 2016        Author: 
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On 21 November, the UN General Assembly Third Committee adopted the draft resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age. This came at the same time the UK passed a law (the Investigatory Powers Act) which codified what are arguably the most extreme surveillance powers in the history of any western democracy.

This is the third time the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution on the topic, and as it did in 2014, the UN has called on all states to review their surveillance legislation, policies, and practices “with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all their obligations under international human rights law”.

This comes at a time in which governments around the world are adopting laws that give wider surveillance powers to state security agencies, beyond what is permitted under existing human rights law. Just to name a few, Privacy International had documented this trend in a range of countries, including in China, Colombia, France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

So, which part of effective implementation of human rights law do governments need explained? Read the rest of this entry…

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12 Years an Asylum Seeker: Failure of States to Deal With Asylum Applications May Breach Applicants’ Right to Respect for Their Private Life

Published on October 26, 2016        Author: 
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In its ground-breaking B.A.C. c. Grèce judgment of October 13 2016, the European Court of Human Rights found that Greece violated the right of an asylum seeker to respect for his private life under Article 8 ECHR due to the failure of the Greek authorities to effectively deal with his asylum application. Whilst the facts of the case are outright extraordinary, the overall significance of the case cannot be downplayed. For the first time, the Court accepted that Article 8 ECHR may be breached due to a State’s inactivity in respect of an asylum application.

The applicant, a Turkish national, had been arrested by the Turkish authorities, and after being charged with an offence against the constitutional order on account of his pro-communist and pro-Kurdish convictions, was placed in solitary confinement. Following a 171-days long hunger strike, he was set free. On 15 January 2002, having entered Greece, he applied for asylum, yet the application was dismissed. The applicant brought an appeal against this decision. According to the law in force at the time, decisions upon appeal were made by the Minister for Public Order within a period of 90 days, following an advisory opinion by a ‘Consultative Asylum Committee’. Indeed, the Committee issued an opinion favorable to the applicant on 29 January 2003.

From this date and for a period of 12 years (up until the application before the Court), the Greek state refrained from reaching any decision on the asylum application. The applicant spent these 12 years in Greece as an asylum seeker denied – in accordance with domestic law – the right to vocational education, to obtain a driver’s license, to open a bank account. The Greek authorities, including the Greek police, nonetheless, did not fail to attest on several occasions that the application was pending, thus renewing his asylum applicant’s identification card. In the meantime, the Turkish authorities sought to extradite the applicant to Turkey. Following a legal battle before the Greek courts the extradition request was defeated. One should also add that the applicant’s wife joined him in Greece in 2003 for a period of 9 years, during which a child was born unto the couple. Still, the applicant was deprived of the right to family reunification, and the situation of the couple was only regularised – somewhat – following the issuance of a temporary work permit to the applicant’s wife in 2008. Eventually, she decided to return to Istanbul and the couple divorced. Read the rest of this entry…

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UN Human Rights Committee Finds that Ireland’s Abortion Ban Violates the ICCPR

Published on June 13, 2016        Author: 
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Last week the UN Human Rights Committee delivered an important decision in Mellet v. Ireland, finding that, as applied to the claimant, the Irish ban on abortion violated several articles of the ICCPR. This was because the ban extended even to pregnancies, like the claimant’s, where the foetus was diagnosed with a fatal abnormality, so that it would either die in utero or shortly after delivery. The claimant was thus forced by Irish law to choose between carrying the baby to term, knowing that it would inevitably die in her womb or immediately after birth, or having to travel to the UK to get an abortion. The claimant chose the latter option, at great personal expense and with a lot of pain and indignity along the way, including having the ashes of her baby unexpectedly delivered to her by courier a few weeks after the abortion.

The Committee was unanimous on the bottom line of the case, which is that the abortion ban, as applied to the claimant, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of Article 7 of the Covenant, as well as a violation of her right to privacy under Article 17 of the Covenant. While the reasoning of the Committee is at times laconic (as is unfortunately the norm with its views), the basic idea behind the decision was essentially that even if the claimant’s rights were subject to an implicit or explicit balancing exercise, in light of the fact that her unborn child would inevitably die there was nothing to balance with the intrusions into her own interests. In other words, Irish law forced her to endure significant suffering for no real purpose, since the unborn child would die anyway.

The Committee’s views in this case are thus confined to its specific circumstances; it has not created a right to abortion on demand or asked Ireland to liberalize access to abortion fully, but to (at the very least) create an exception to its ban that would accommodate women in the claimant’s situation. The main problem here is that the Irish abortion ban stems from a constitutional provision, which was interpreted by the Irish Supreme Court as only allowing for an exception if there is real risk to the life, but not to the health, of the mother. Ireland can thus comply with the Committee’s recommendation only if the Supreme Court revisits the issue and carves out another exception, or if the Constitution itself is amended, which requires a popular referendum. In other words, this is one of those rare cases where domestic constitutional provisions as authoritatively interpreted by domestic courts are themselves violative of international human rights law; this does not change anything as a matter of international law, but clearly it creates specific political challenges for compliance (cf. the Sejdic and Finci judgment of the Strasbourg Court). See more on this point in this post by Fiona de Londras on the Human Rights in Ireland blog; this post by Mairead Enright has more analysis of the Committee’s decision.

Read the rest of this entry…

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ECHR Jurisdiction and Mass Surveillance: Scrutinising the UK Investigatory Power Tribunal’s Recent Ruling

Published on June 9, 2016        Author: 
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Last week, as discussed in a post by Marko Milanovic, the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled that it lacked jurisdiction under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to adjudicate Article 8 and 10 claims brought by persons “situated outside” of the UK (para. 60). The IPT is a specialised judicial body that hears complaints about surveillance by public bodies, including British security and intelligence agencies. IPT decisions are not subject to direct appeal in the UK. We are therefore likely to see this ruling quickly challenged before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Background

The backdrop to this litigation is convoluted. I sketch out the context in this post as I believe it will enrich discussion of the jurisdictional issues which are at the heart of this dispute. In 2013, following the Snowden disclosures, Privacy International, together with nine other NGOs, filed a case before the IPT challenging two aspects of the UK’s surveillance regime. First, the claimants challenged UK access to the communications of persons located within the UK collected by the US National Security Agency (NSA) under PRISM and Upstream. Under PRISM, the NSA collected data from US companies including Yahoo and Google. Under Upstream, the NSA intercepted data in bulk from hundreds of undersea fibre optic cables. Second, the claimants challenged Tempora, the British counterpart to Upstream, under which the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intercepted data in bulk from over 200 cables landing in the UK.

In February 2015, the IPT found that US-UK intelligence sharing – pursuant to PRISM and Upstream – was unlawful prior to 5 December 2014 because the legal framework governing it was hidden from the public (according to the IPT, that framework was sufficiently disclosed over the course of the proceedings so as to render the sharing of intelligence legal from that point forward). Read the rest of this entry…

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