BRITAIN has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for violating privacy laws by intercepting phone calls at a Defence Ministry site in Capenhurst.
Europe’s top rights court ruled against the government for listening in to telephone calls between British and Irish rights groups and their clients.
Rights group Liberty and its Irish counterparts British Irish Rights Watch and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said Britain set up an eavesdropping facility at Capenhurst that intercepted much of the telephone, fax and e-mail traffic between Britain and Ireland in the 1990s.
The Defence Ministry site near Chester intercepted all public telecommunications carried by microwave radio between two British Telecom radio stations between 1990 and 1997, the rights groups said.
Much of their communications would have passed through those radio stations and would therefore have been picked up by the Capenhurst Electronic Test Facility, which was designed to intercept 10,000 simultaneous telephone channels, they said.
For security reasons, Britain neither confirmed nor denied the statements made about its surveillance activities, but it agreed that the court could presume some of the civil liberties’ groups communications were intercepted.
In a statement the court said: “The court recalled that it had previously found that the mere existence of legislation which allowed communications to be monitored secretly had entailed a surveillance threat for all those to whom the legislation might be applied.
“In the applicants’ case, the court therefore found that there had been an interference with their rights as guaranteed by Article 8,” the court said, referring to the article in the European Charter of Human Rights on the right to privacy.
The 1985 Interception of Communications Act gave British authorities “extremely broad discretion” to intercept communications between Britain and another country, it said.