Rights group Privacy International has called for the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal to look into GCHQ's alleged use of tracking software to monitor phones and desktop machines as fallout from the PRISM leaks continues.
The group said the complaint is the first UK legal challenge against spying and spyware tools, and demands an end to the surveillance (PDF).
Privacy International claims that snooping is covert, rampant and widespread. It accuses the spy agency of running programmes with names like Gumfish, Foggybottom and Tracker Smurf.
Eric King, deputy director at Privacy International, said: "The hacking programmes being undertaken by GCHQ are the modern equivalent of the government entering your house, rummaging through your filing cabinets, diaries, journals and correspondence, before planting bugs in every room you enter. Intelligence agencies can do all this without you even knowing about it, and can invade the privacy of anyone around the world with a few clicks.
"All of this is being done under a cloak of secrecy without any public debate or clear lawful authority. Arbitrary powers such as these are the purview of dictatorships not democracies. Unrestrained, unregulated government spying of this kind is the antithesis of the rule of law and government must be held accountable for their actions."
According to the group, the GCHQ and NSA are involved in projects that can pull together various sources of information and build up a picture of a person. It says that they do this by harvesting data, scouring hardware, recording browsing history and tracking locations.
Privacy International said that these actions are in clear breach of Article 8 (the right to privacy) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
A GCHQ spokesperson said that the agency would not comment on such matters, and added that all operations are within the law.
"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,” said the statement.
“Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”
The legal challenges comes just a day after Privacy International successfully won a court case against HMRC over whether it is carrying out any investigations into Gamma International which sells the FinFisher spy software.
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