Privacy International files legal action against UK government over PRISM and Tempora cyber snooping

Privacy International files legal action against UK government over PRISM and Tempora cyber snooping

Privacy International, a UK charity that promotes privacy throughout the world, has filed a legal challenge against the UK government for its reported use of mass surveillance programmes.

The organisation announced the legal challenge today claiming that the “expansive spying regime is seemingly operated outside of the rule of law, lacks any accountability, and is neither necessary nor proportionate”.

In case you haven’t been online for the last month or so, or seen a newspaper, the case revolves around GCHQ’s reported mass tapping of the UK’s internet infrastructure at crucial points in order to intercept the massive amounts of data being transmitted. This data was then reportedly pored over by analysts in the US at the NSA and the UK’s spy agency, GCHQ.

The claim was filed in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – an independent judicial body that is separate from the government – on Monday and is hinging on two points.

Firstly, that there was no publicly accessible legal framework in which the communications data of people located in the UK was accessed after being tipped off by the NSA’s PRISM operatives.

And secondly, and perhaps even more pertinently, that GCHQ tapped and stored “huge amounts of data” via undersea cables with its Tempora programme.

“One of the underlying tenets of law in a democratic society is the accessibility and foreseeability of a law. If there is no way for citizens to know of the existence, interpretation, or execution of a law, then the law is effectively secret. And secret law is not law. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract if the Government can operate with unrestrained power in such an arbitrary fashion, “ Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, said.

“Mass, indiscriminate surveillance of this kind goes against the most basic fundamental human rights to privacy. The scope and scale of this program, which monitors the entire British public and much of the world, cannot be justified as necessary and proportionate.”

Knowledge of both secret surveillance programmes was brought about when Edward Snowden – who is now seeking asylum in a number of different countries – revealed details and the wide-ranging scope of the systems.

The UK’s Tempora system, according to reports, has been increasing its capabilities since 2008 and has now scaled to the point where it now has the biggest eavesdropping access of the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance – made up of the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

In an additional twist, Privacy International said it had planned to file the challenge in Administrative Court (making the proceedings public) but that when the Government’s lawyers had been informed they “vociferously notified us that we could not bring such a claim in the Administrative Court. Rather, the claim has been forced to be filed with the IPT, a secret tribunal that does not make its proceeding public or have to justify reasons for its decisions.”

Naturally, we asked GCHQ for its input on the subject but were left with disappointment. A spokesman for the organization said “we have no comment to make on the subject you refer to”, but then that’s not too surprising for spooks, is it.

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