According to a new ruling handed down today by a secret UK court, GCHQ—essentially the UK equivalent of the NSA—unlawfully spied on British citizens. The ruling pertains to the intelligence sharing between the USA and UK, where GCHQ had access to the NSA’s PRISM and UPSTREAM programs. Basically, because the rules that governed the UK’s access to PRISM and UPSTREAM were kept secret, GCHQ contravened two Articles of the European Convention of Human Rights—the right to freedom of expression and information, and the right to private and family life.
When Edward Snowden released thousands of sensitive documents in 2013, detailing many of the NSA’s signals intelligence (sigint) programs, it was clear that a lot of the data was being shared with Five Eyes—an intelligence alliance consisting of the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Armed with this new information, civil liberties groups like Privacy International, Bytes for All, and Amnesty International leapt into action.
Back in 2013, Privacy International filed a complaint over GCHQ’s behavior with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT)—a secret, independent court that hears complaints about surveillance overreach by the UK government. In December 2014, IPT ruled that GCHQ’s future intelligence sharing with the NSA was lawful, because the programs were no longer secret. Today, the IPT ruled that the intelligence sharing that occurred before December 2014 was unlawful, because the details of the arrangement were secret, and thus contravened Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
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