Strasbourg, France—The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has accused British Intelligence with a breach of human rights over a mass surveillance operation.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is Great Britain’s premier intelligence organization.  It is responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) to and securing the communications of the British government and Armed Forces (the National Security Agency (NSA) would be the U.S. equivalent).

The ECHR has found that the British spooks violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects individual and family privacy. It is important, however, to note that the ECHR isn’t accusing the GCHQ of eavesdropping, but of not ensuring the security of and access to the gathered data.  Access was not limited to government employees.

According to the European judges, the data “could reveal a great deal about a person’s habit and contacts.”

Furthermore, the ECHR is accusing the GCHQ of breaking Article 10, freedom of expression, by not ensuring that proper safety measures were followed to ensure the confidentiality of the data.

“This landmark judgment confirming that the U.K.’s mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr Snowden’s courageous whistleblowing and the tireless work of Big Brother Watch and others in our pursuit for justice,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a civil rights and privacy advocate group.

The ECHR only undertook the case following a campaign by civil rights activists and journalists. The impetus behind their campaign was Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations. Among other intelligence, the former NSA contractor leaked the existence of several U.S. and UK SIGINT and intel-sharing operations.

British security and intelligence services are legally authorised to perform controversial intelligence-gathering operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).