The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), Britain’s most secretive court, has ruled that British intelligence operations regarding internet mass surveillance were unlawful. GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence and security agency, has been found in breach of human rights laws. The unlawful information that GCHQ was in possession of came from the NSA, via its Prism information intercept programme.
The IPT posted an order to its website on Friday, reading, “The regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities … contravened Articles 8 or 10” of the European convention on human rights (ECHR). Article 8 is the right to private and family life, while article 10 protects freedom of expression.
The initial challenge against GCHQ and the NSA came from a coalition of civil liberty groups, including Liberty and Privacy International.
“For far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law,” said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International. “Today’s decision confirms to the public what many have said all along – over the past decade, GCHQ and the NSA have been engaged in an illegal mass surveillance sharing programme that has affected millions of people around the world.”
“We must not allow agencies to continue justifying mass surveillance programmes using secret interpretations of secret laws. The world owes Edward Snowden a great debt for blowing the whistle, and today’s decision is a vindication of his actions.”
“But more work needs to be done. The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by the government to release previously secret ‘arrangements’. That is plainly not enough to fix what remains a massive loophole in the law, and we hope that the European court decides to rule in favour of privacy rather than unchecked state power.”
“We now know that, by keeping the public in the dark about their secret dealings with the NSA, GCHQ acted unlawfully and violated our rights,” added James Welsh, legal director for Liberty. “That their activities are now deemed lawful is thanks only to the degree of disclosure Liberty and the other claimants were able to force from our secrecy-obsessed government.”
“But the intelligence services retain a largely unfettered power to rifle through millions of people’s private communications – and the tribunal believes the limited safeguards revealed during last year’s legal proceedings are an adequate protection of our privacy. We disagree, and will be taking our fight to the European court of human rights.”
A spokesperson for GCHQ responded to the ruling, saying, “We are pleased that the court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful. It follows the court’s clear rejection of accusations of ‘mass surveillance’ in their December judgement.”
Source: The Guardian