GCHQ snooping ruling does not go far enough, says Open Rights Group

The recent ruling that mass surveillance of UK citizens' internet communications by GCHQ was unlawful does not go far enough, says Open Rights Group

The recent ruling that mass surveillance of UK citizens' internet communications by the UK intelligence services was unlawful until the end of 2014 does not go far enough, according to Open Rights Group.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled that UK intelligence agency GCHQ had breached the Human Rights Act by using intelligence on UK residents from the US National Security Agency (NSA) .

The IPT found the secret intelligence sharing between the UK and the US was unlawful prior to December 2014 because the policies governing these arrangements were secret.

These policies were made public in December 2014 during a case brought by Privacy International, Bytes for All, Liberty and Amnesty International.

The IPT judgement rules that GCHQ was in breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which governs the right to a private and family life, as well as Article 10, which covers the right to freedom of expression.

However, in an earlier ruling, the IPT held that access by GCHQ to NSA data was lawful from December 2014 onwards, because the case itself had rendered some of the secret policies more transparent.

That ruling now faces further legal challenges from human rights groups.

Open Rights Group said that while it welcomes the ruling on 6 February 2015 as the first time the IPT has found the UK’s intelligence services to be in breach of human rights law, the finding relates to relates to historic practices only.

The IPT has already said it believes intelligence sharing is currently lawful, since the disclosure of the secret policies during the IPT proceedings. In the same December 2014 judgment, the IPT also found that GCHQ’s Tempora programme of mass surveillance was in accordance with the law

Open Rights Group legal director Elizabeth Knight said the ruling was a welcome first step.

"It shows that secret polices are not an acceptable basis for highly intrusive intelligence sharing practices. However, the IPT has not gone far enough,” she said. 

“These flimsy policies are not enough to comply with the requirements of human rights law, even now they are public. And GCHQ’s own Tempora programme of mass interception is clearly both unlawful and disproportionate.

“We hope the European Court of Human Rights will go further than the IPT and find that mass surveillance breaches our human right to privacy.”

Open Rights Group has an application pending at the European Court of Human Rights, which challenges both intelligence sharing and GCHQ’s Tempora programme based on non-specific, blanket warrants.

The case, brought along with Big Brother Watch, English PEN and German computer scientist and writer Constanze Kurz, has been on hold awaiting the outcome of the IPT case. The case is expected to go ahead soon, now the IPT has given its ruling.

Similar European court cases are planned by Amnesty International, Privacy International, and Bytes for All.

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