Zakharov v. Russia

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Zakharov v. Russia
European stars.svg
Decided 4 December 2015
Full case nameZakharov v. Russia
Case number47143/06
ChamberGrand Chamber
Court composition
Dean Spielmann

Zakharov v. Russia was a 2015 court case before the European Court of Human Rights involving Roman Zakharov and the Russian Federation. The Court ruled that Russia's legal provisions governing communications surveillance did not provide adequate safeguards against arbitrariness or abuse, and that therefore a violation took place of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (right to privacy).


In 2003, editor Roman Zakharov brought judicial proceeding against three mobile network operators, claiming that there had been a violation of his right to the privacy of his communications. He maintained that Russia's SORM system (surveillance equipment installed at mobile phone companies) enables unrestricted interception of all telephone communications by the security services without prior judicial authorization.[1] The claim was rejected on the grounds that Zakharov did not prove to be a victim of such an interception himself. The rejection was upheld in 2006.[1][2]

In 2006, Zakharov lodged a case with the ECtHR. He relied on Article 8 (right to privacy), arguing that Russia's national law permitted the security services to intercept, through technical means, any person's communications without obtaining prior judicial authorization. He further relied on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), complaining that he had no effective legal remedy at national level to challenge that legislation.[1]


In a unanimous Grand Chamber decision, the Court ruled that several aspects of Russian surveillance legislation were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights:[1][3]

  • Communications surveillance is permitted for a broad range of criminal offenses and authorities have "an almost unlimited degree of discretion" in the matter;
  • Surveillance is not limited to those suspected of having committed offenses;
  • Criteria for beginning, ceasing and scope of the surveillance are not clearly defined;
  • Robust oversight mechanisms and effective remedies were lacking, mainly:
    • Logging or recording of the interceptions is prohibited by Russian law;
    • Supervision of interception by judges and prosecutors is limited, does not include checks for necessity and justification, and is not open to public scrutiny;
    • The absence of a requirement to notify the subject when surveillance had ceased undermines the effectiveness of any available remedies

Although Russian law generally provided for prior judicial authorization of communications surveillance, the Court concluded that in practice, this could be circumvented.[4][3] It also remarked that the proceedings indicate the existence of arbitrary and abusive surveillance practices.[5]

Russia's SORM system was therefore found to be inconsistent with the requirements of Article 8.[1] The Court held that the existence of the contested legislation amounted to an interference with Zakharov's rights.[1]


On the same day of the ruling, the Russian government passed a law allowing it to overrule international court orders to "protect the interests of Russia"[6][7] if these orders are contradictory to the constitutional law.[8]

Commentators have noted the decision for the fact that the applicant was able to challenge the surveillance regulatory framework without being required to prove that he had been spied upon himself.[9][5] The Court instead considered the legislation in abstracto as well as its application in practice.[5]

The case was featured in Oxfords University Press blog in its 2015 "Top ten developments in international law" list.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "HUDOC Press Release: Arbitrary and abusive secret surveillance of mobile telephone communications in Russia". 2015-12-04. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
  2. ^ "Russia's eavesdropping on phone calls examined by Strasbourg court". The Guardian. 2014-09-24. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
  3. ^ a b "CASE OF ROMAN ZAKHAROV v. RUSSIA (Application no. 47143/06)". HUDOC – European Court of Human Rights. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  4. ^ "ECHR, Russian Federation: Breaches of Human Rights in Surveillance Legislation – Global Legal Monitor". 2016-03-02. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  5. ^ a b c Milanovic, Marko (2015-12-07). "Blockbuster Strasbourg Judgment on Surveillance in Russia". EJIL: Talk!. Blog of the European Journal of International Law. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
  6. ^ "Russia passes law to overrule European human rights court - BBC News". BBC News. 2015-12-04. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
  7. ^ "Dispatches: Russian Court Hopes to Thwart International Law Rulings". Human Rights Watch. 2015-12-10. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
  8. ^ "14 июля 2015 года Конституционный Суд РФ постановил, что решения ЕСПЧ должны исполняться с учетом верховенства Конституции РФ" [14 July 2015 Russian Constitutional Court held that orders issued by ECHR have to be executed regarding supremacy of Constitutional Law.]. (in Russian). Archived from the original on 21 Apr 2017. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  9. ^ "European Court of Human Rights says blanket surveillance is a violation". Ars Technica UK. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
  10. ^ "Top ten developments in international law in 2015 – OUPblog". OUPblog. 2016-01-11. Retrieved 2016-04-15.

External links[edit]