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A claim that children’s privacy online is being breached under the Prism surveillance programme is being referred to the information commissioner.
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At a preliminary hearing behind closed doors, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which looks into complaints about surveillance, ruled that it did not have the power to consider a case brought by Kevin Cahill.
Cahill had asked the IPT to order an investigation into complaints he had filed on behalf of two children, their parents and himself against what he claims is “the criminal and unlawful Prism surveillance programme in the UK”.
Cahill, a contributor to Computer Weekly, told the tribunal on 10 December that he was concerned, despite Edward Snowden’s revelation of the US National Security Agency’s Prism surveillance programme in 2013, that UK officials had not intervened to prevent the surveillance of children in the UK.
When Cahill earlier contacted the interception of communications commissioner, Sir Anthony May, over concerns that the nine US technology firms linked by Snowden to Prism were intercepting emails and stealing data, May advised Cahill to go to the police. Two police forces declined to investigate, claiming there was no evidence to support the case.
During the 40-minute IPT hearing at the Rolls Building in Fetter Lane, London, tribunal judges Susan O'Brien QC and Michael Burton QC, president, said they could not act on Cahill’s request.
Mr Justice Burton told Cahill: “We have no power over the police unless they are involved in surveillance illegally. We have no power to tell the police what to do.”
However, the judges said they would contact Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Devon and Cornwall chief constable Sean Sawyer, Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner Tony Hogg and the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to ask them to consider investigating Cahill’s complaints.
Mr Justice Burton added: “We could make this public and send the complaint to the information commissioner and the three police officers you mentioned.”
Cahill’s action follows a judgment by the European Court of Justice in September which described Prism as “an indiscriminate mass surveillance system” run by the US government throughout Europe, including the UK.
In its judgment on a claim brought by Austrian national Maximilian Schrems, who challenged the transfer of personal data from Facebook in Ireland to Facebook in the US, the court said: “Once personal data is transferred to the US, the NSA and other US security agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are able to access it in the course of a mass and indiscriminate surveillance and interception of such data.”
Cahill said there was no lower age limit for the subjects of data collection under the Prism programme, which meant the online activity of young children could also be recorded.
He told Computer Weekly: “We have wound up with all the private data of children beginning with the three-year-olds in 2006, when Prism was started, in the hands of a foreign intelligence agency, in a foreign country. The children cannot access this data, cannot change it and are doomed to be affected for the rest of their lives by whatever use the NSA chooses to make of these illegally obtained files.”