Court rules GCHQ's surveillance breached human rights

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/carterdayne)

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled on Friday that GCHQ's use of mass surveillance data intercepted by the National Security Agency in the US breached human rights. Groups who advocate human rights believe that the intelligence-sharing between the two controversial government bodies was illegal for at least seven years.

PRISM, the primary interception program used by the NSA, was introduced in 2007 and has been in-use until 2014 after whistleblower Edward Snowden released documents exposing its questionable practices back in June 2013.

Eric King, Deputy Director of Privacy International, said: "We must not allow agencies to continue justifying mass surveillance programs 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."

Intelligence-sharing between the two controversial government bodies was illegal for at least seven years.

Snowden's revelations spurred a response from the EU's Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, Viviane Reding, to send a letter to the US Attorney General which states: "I would request that you provide me with explanations and clarifications on the PRISM program, and other US programs involving data collection and search."

IPT's ruling marks the first time a complaint has been upheld against any of the UK's intelligence agencies since it was established in 2000. A post was placed on the tribunal's website early on Friday which said: "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.

Article 8 refers to the right of privacy, whilst article 10 is the right to freedom of expression. PRISM defied both of these articles and allowed the NSA to access data handled by internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Google and Apple. In just one day it was able to collect 444,743 email address books from Yahoo and 82,857 from Facebook.

James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty, said: "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."

Information-sharing between the NSA and GCHQ is now legal due to a legal case which resulted in full-disclosure of guidelines that govern such practices, but groups such as Liberty believe that the limited safeguards revealed are sufficient to make GCHQ’s mass surveillance and intelligence-sharing activities lawful.

Should agencies be more respectful of citizens’ rights? Let us know in the comments. 

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