American whistle-blower Edward Snowden

In the midst of all the brouhaha about spying on U.S. citizens, it is worth recalling that the U.K. was found guilty in 2008 in the European Court of Human Rights of spying on all telephone calls, faxes and emails to and from Ireland between 1990 and 1997.

The British and indeed the Irish have been acting aggrieved, shocked and offended by the American case first revealed in the British newspaper The Guardian.

But they certainly do not have clean hands when it comes to intercepting communications In the Liberty v. the United Kingdom case, “The European Court of Human Rights has held that a system of mass surveillance operated by the U.K. government to spy on all telephone calls, faxes and emails to and from Ireland was in breach of the right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” according to

The digital rights people noted that “the case, brought by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty and British-Irish Rights Watch dealt with a system operated by the Ministry of Defense which monitored, between 1990 and 1997, up to 10,000 simultaneous telephone channels coming from Dublin to London and on to the continent.”

The European case revealed that during that time the Ministry of Defense intercepted all public telecommunications, including telephone, facsimile and e-mail communications, carried on microwave radio between two of British Telecom’s radio stations (at Clwyd and Chester), a link which carried much of Ireland’s telecommunications traffic.

“Those telephone calls, faxes and emails were then stored and filtering using search engines and keyword lists before being passed to intelligence analysts.”


So every call and fax and e-mail was monitored by the British Big Brother between Ireland and England, and there was hardly a peep anywhere about it before two courageous human rights

groups, British/Irish Watch and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties brought a case.

The European Court decision stated:

“In conclusion, the court does not consider that the domestic law at the relevant time indicated with sufficient clarity, so as to provide adequate protection against abuse of power, the scope or manner of exercise of the very wide discretion conferred on the state to intercept and examine external communications.

In particular, it did not, as required by the court’s case-law, set out in a form accessible to the public any indication of the procedure to be followed for selecting for examination, sharing, storing and destroying intercepted material. The interference with the applicants’ rights under Article 8 was not, therefore, in accordance with the law.”

Afterwards the Irish Council for Civil Liberties called for urgent reform of surveillance laws after securing the significant victory in their case before the European Court of Human Rights.

Director Mark Kelly said, “The Strasbourg Court has vindicated the ICCL’s belief that data ‘fishing expeditions’ by the intelligence services will fall foul of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judges have found that the United Kingdom’s relatively sophisticated rules on data interception have failed to prevent unlawful interference with privacy rights.

“This has clear implications for Ireland’s lax data interception regime, which will require a thorough overhaul in order to ensure that it meets the standards required by the European Court of Human Rights.”

It also became public knowledge that all data from Ireland was being retained by Irish authorities.

TJ McIntyre, chairman of Digital Rights Ireland and lecturer in a law in University College Dublin, said the judgment would be significant for the legal challenge to data retention currently

being brought by Digital Rights Ireland in the High Court.

“This is a landmark case which casts further doubt on the legality of Ireland’s ‘data retention’ system which tracks the telephone calls and internet use of all citizens without discrimination.

It is a clear statement from the Court of Human Rights that indiscriminate surveillance will generally be incompatible with the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Nothing much has changed in the interim I gather with cases still pending.

So next time the British or Irish begin reporting on how intrusive the American spy system is, let them take a look at their own rules first.