European rights court slams Russia for phone tapping

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Russia's large-scale phone-tapping system, ruling that it risks "destroying democracy" (AFP Photo/Nicolas Asfouri) (AFP/File)

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights condemned Russia's large-scale mobile phone-tapping system Friday, ruling that it risked "destroying democracy".

Judges at the Strasbourg court said that without "adequate and effective guarantees against abuse... the system of secret surveillance set up to protect national security might undermine or even destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it."

The case was brought by Roman Zakharov, the editor-in-chief of a publishing house in Russia's second city Saint Petersburg, who claimed that the security services could tap mobile phone conversations without a warrant.

He tried to contest this in the Russian courts in 2003 but his case was thrown out.

Zakharov had complained that mobile phone operators were required by law to instal equipment that "permitted blanket interception of communications".

The European court found that although Zakharov was not able to prove that he had been placed under surveillance himself, he had a justifiable complaint because the measures "affected all" mobile phone users.

It said Russia was guilty of breaching his right to privacy and to private communication.

"A system which allows the secret services and the police to intercept directly the communications of each and every citizen without having to show an interception authorisation to the communications service provider, or to anyone else, is particularly prone to abuse," the court said in its ruling.

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