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PRISM: Government faces court action in Europe over spy scandal

04 Oct 2013
GCHQ Cheltenham

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is facing a legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its involvement in the PRISM spying scandal.

The case is being brought by three leading civil liberties organisations in the UK – Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and English PEN – which argue that privacy rights were infringed by the spying programme.

Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors will represent the applicants and Daniel Carey, the solicitor heading the case, said the case against GCHQ was strong and needed to be dealt with in public.

“We are asking the court to declare that unrestrained surveillance of much of Europe’s internet communications by the UK Government, and the outdated regulatory system that has permitted this, breach our rights to privacy. This is not something the secret investigatory powers tribunal can do. 

"Indeed, it is precisely the sort of case that we need the ECHR for. We are asking for the case to be dealt with on a priority basis, so I am hopeful that it will be formally communicated to the UK Government within a period of weeks.”

V3 contacted the GCHQ for comment but it said it would not comment on the case.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said it was vital that the government was held accountable for its actions, especially as it was taking advantage of outdated privacy laws.

“The laws governing how internet data is accessed were written when barely anyone had broadband access and were intended to cover old-fashioned copper telephone lines,” he said.

“Parliament did not envisage or intend those laws to permit scooping up details of every communication we send, including content, so it’s absolutely right that GCHQ is held accountable.”

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said tackling the issue was vital as the potential for spying programmes to get out of hand was a chilling prospect.

"Mass surveillance systems create risks for everyone, and place extreme degrees of power in the hands of secret agencies," he said.

"This is made worse by the lack of democratic accountability and judicial oversight. People living across the UK, Europe, the USA and beyond need the courts to protect their rights and start the process of re-establishing public trust."

The PRISM spying scandal broke earlier this year when it was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the US had been leading a huge spying programme to monitor and analyse internet traffic.

This also led to revelations about a UK-led operation called Tempora, which saw the GCHQ tap into global telecoms networks to extract and analyse worldwide web traffic.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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