title: 'GCHQ violation of rule of law privacy international' published: true publish_date: '31-08-2016 14:56' taxonomy: category:
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Privacy campaigners have launched legal action against the UK government over spying programmes allegedly carried out by British and US intelligence agencies. Lawyers say it amounts to blanket surveillance operating outside the law. VoR's Vivienne Nunis reports. For Privacy International this is a battle on two fronts. The first fight is over PRISM, the spying programme run by the American National Security Agency, which reportedly uses internet companies like Facebook and Google to access the online communications of millions of non-US citizens. Some of that data is then passed on to their British counterparts at GCHQ. Privacy International campaigners say that’s like getting information through the back door, away from the usual laws governing surveillance. They say British intelligence staff are operating without a legal framework, making it impossible to keep them to account. Secret law Mike Rispoli is from Privacy International. “One of the underlying of tenets of law is that you can know what the law is and how the government will execute it, but if the government interprets the law and executes the law in a secret manner then it is in fact a secret law. "And what we’re arguing is that secret law is not law. So we want this to stop immediately and we expect the British government to establish a legal framework in order to spy on its citizens.” It’s been reported the UK has had access to the American PRISM programme since at least June 2010 and that it generated nearly 200 intelligence reports from the system last year. Lawyers for Privacy International say the absence of laws governing the use of PRISM data is a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides the right to private correspondence. In a statement Bhatt Murphy Solicitors said: “The UK authorities have been engaged in a regime of surveillance which amounts to a serious and unjustifiable violation of the rule of law: it breaches EU law, and it breaches the rights of the citizen to freedom of expression and privacy as protected by the Human Rights Act.” Tribunal But this isn’t a fight that will take place in the courts. Although Privacy International wanted to file the Prism claim in the Administrative Court, government lawyers said that wasn’t possible. Instead the claim had to be made to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which is required to review complaints about the way Britain’s spy agencies operate. Privacy International says it reluctantly filed the claim with the IPT, but the Tribunal has only ever upheld 10 complaints against the agencies from more than 1000 cases. “In order to find out what secret, covert operations the government is carrying out, we have to go to a secret tribunal that over 99% of the time rules in favour of the government. "The IPT does not have to give justification for their ruling; they don’t even have to publish anything about it, so in order to find out secret actions being undertaken by the government we have to go to a secret tribunal. It’s enough to make your head spin.” Tempora But the fight over Prism is not the main event. Privacy International’s bigger battle is over Tempora – the spying programme operated entirely by GCHQ, which is subject to British law. Made up of two components named Mastering the Internetand Global Telecoms Exploitation, GCHQ reportedly intercepts data carried on fibre optic cables running in and out of the UK. That means it has access to millions of emails, phone calls and Skype conversations. Privacy International says the surveillance is neither necessary nor proportionate – the standards required by the UK’s Regulation of Investigator Powers Act or RIPA. The internet's backbone “By tapping into the internet’s backbone, undersea fibre cables, it is the definition of mass and indiscriminate surveillance because you’re just sucking up all the data that is passing through these cables without necessity or proportionality and then storing it and analysing it. “Ironically, if we think Prism is bad, Tempora is actually much more invasive and vast in scope. UK officials were saying ‘We can do this as opposed to the US doing this type of surveillance because we have a light oversight regime’. "I mean, it’s actually in their words them saying that, ‘Because there is not an oversight regime we can conduct mass and indiscriminate surveillance.’” The civil rights group Liberty has also filed a complaint with the IPT. Liberty believes it’s been a victim of unlawful surveillance and electronic communications belong to the organisation may have been tapped by the security services and GCHQ. Foreign Secretary William Hague says any interception of communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by him or another secretary of state. And that the government takes great care to balance individual privacy with national security.