Today Big Brother Watch, working with the Open Rights Group, English PEN and German internet activist Constanze Kurz, has announced legal papers have been filed alleging that GCHQ has illegally intruded on the privacy of millions of British and European citizens.
We allege that by collecting vast amounts of data leaving or entering the UK, including the content of emails and social media messages, the UK’s spy agency has acted illegally.
A dedicated website – Privacy not Prism – has been set up to fund the legal action.
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. 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 in the courts for its actions.
These concerns have also been raised by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, who questioned if the legal framework is adequate.
When details recently emerged in the media about the Prism and Tempora programmes, codenames for previously secret online surveillance operations, it was revealed that GCHQ has the capacity to collect more than 21 petabytes of data a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours. The disclosures have raised serious parliamentary concerns both in Britain and at the EU level.
Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors represent the applicants, instructing Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers and Tom Hickman and Ravi Mehta of Blackstone Chambers.