The Snowden revelations lifted the lid on Tempora, an electronic surveillance programme operated by the UK’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ. The project uses intercepts on fibre-optic cables entering and leaving the UK – gathering vast amounts of communications content and data.
Liberty is acting for six claimants – the American Civil Liberties Union, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa).They are issuing a claim in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) against GCHQ, the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
The organisations believe it is likely that the British Intelligence Services have used Tempora to monitor their private communications – either being sent to, received from, transferred via or processed in the UK. This is particularly so given their work on human rights and counter-terrorism issues.
Liberty has already issued a claim in the IPT which highlights the fact that any electronic communications with people outside this country are liable to be swept up and monitored by the British Intelligence Services. The international partners’ claim makes the point that this affects people overseas even when they are not communicating with people in this country – as their emails and messages can be intercepted simply because they pass through the UK.
Liberty argues that the interference with its clients’ communications is a breach of Article 8 (the right to respect for their private and family life) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. There is no clear legal framework, within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 or otherwise, that permits Tempora’s collection and storage of such vast amounts of communications. And the scale of data being obtained cannot be described as either necessary or proportionate.
Liberty also says that this breaches Article 14 of the European Convention – because there is far less protection for external communications than there is for communications sent and received within this country.
James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty, said: “Revelations of out-of-control surveillance have exposed our rulers’ contempt for rights and freedoms and the lack of proper protection against endless monitoring of the entire globe.
“The international nature of the Internet means that people who may not even be communicating with someone in this country are liable to have their messages and e-mails snooped on by the British secret state.”