Three civil liberties campaign groups are taking legal action against the UK spy agency, GCHQ, for breaching the privacy of British and European citizens on an unprecedented scale, reports Zehrah Hasan. Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group, English PEN and Internet activist Constanze Kurz are funding their legal battle through donations made on www.privacynotprism.org.uk.
This follows revelations made by Edward Snowdon, former CIA analyst, who leaked files revealing the extent and nature of the GCHQ’s data collection. Programmes such as Tempora facilitate mass surveillance of data leaving or entering the UK by monitoring major channels of communication including web, mobile phone networks, private emails and even social media messages. The campaign groups involved have taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure a level of public transparency citing the right to private family life under article 8 of the ECHR.
The applicants are being represented by the law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn. ‘Our point is that you cannot use national security as a trump card,’ commented partner Adam Hundt. ‘It does not justify blanket surveillance and there needs to be more focus and proportionality. Of course, there will be instances when surveillance of a particular individual is justified for crime prevention, but it is a disproportionate leap to go from that to rolling warrants.’
The fight against the GCHQ is also a call for modernisation. Director of Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, noted that the outdated system was written to protect ‘old fashioned copper telephone lines’ as opposed to the undersea fibre cables now being tapped by the Government. It was also highlighted in the Snowden files that Government technology has the capacity to configure over 21 petabytes of data a day; roughly the same amount of data processed daily by Google. ‘We need a clearer system where more is done to protect the public,’ said Hundt.
After a visit to the GCHQ site in August this year the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, insisted that the facility acts ‘in full accordance with our laws and values.’ According to a spokesperson from Big Brother Watch, Privacy not Prism has made its submissions and is awaiting a response. So far, they have raised over £20,000 from public donations in support of their actions.
Author: Zehrah Hasan
History undergraduate at University College London and former editor of their online paper