Mass internet surveillance by GCHQ declared unlawful

A tribunal has just ruled on GCHQ’s mass surveillance of the internet for intelligence purposes, and has decided that the authorities acted unlawfully in this case.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which keeps GHCQ, MI5 and MI6 in check, has never previously ruled against the intelligence agencies in 15 years of existence, so this marks the first time this has ever occurred.

The body ruled that the intelligence sharing between the US and UK prior to December of last year, with GCHQ accessing personal details the NSA had hoovered up online, was unlawful.

In a blog post, Privacy International, one of the claimants in the case, stated that the decision to declare the activities unlawful was made due to the fact that the rules governing the UK’s access to the PRISM programme (and other US intelligence sources) were kept secret – there was a complete lack of transparency – and only came to light thanks to Edward Snowden spilling the details.

Other claimants in the trial included Bytes for All, Liberty, and Amnesty International.

Eric King, Deputy Director of Privacy International, commented: "For far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law. 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 program that has affected millions of people around the world.”

“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.”

King also noted that further work needs to be done, though. He added: “The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by 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."