Yet more evidence has come to light to show that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is woefully out of date.
It has been revealed that GCHQ, has the ability to request large amounts of un-analysed communications from foreign intelligence agencies without first obtaining a warrant. The documents, obtained in the course of a case brought before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), show that the use of a warrant was not necessary if it is “not technically feasible” for GCHQ to obtain one.
This is not the first revelation from the case, which was brought by a number of groups including Liberty and Privacy International. In June this year it was revealed that messages sent via platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are classed as “external communications” even if they have been sent between UK citizens. This means that there is no need to apply for a warrant before collecting the information.
As it stands the legislation being used to authorize surveillance was passed before the advent of social media, which revolutionized the way in which we communicate. When MPs were debating this bill they could not have been expected to anticipate the dramatic change in how we would communicate with each other after the launch of Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006). As a result RIPA has not kept pace with technology and is now open to worrying interpretations.
The Government’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal the Government’s secret policy which allows for the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google user in the UK. It is the first time the Government has openly commented on how it thinks it can use the UK’s vague surveillance legal framework to indiscriminately intercept communications through its mass interception programme TEMPORA.
The information has been made public due to a legal challenge brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pakistani organisation Bytes for All, and five other national civil liberties organisations. The legal challenge follows revelations made by Edward Snowden about the UK’s global digital surveillance activities. Charles Farr is the government’s key witness in the case, which will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal between 14 and 18 July 2014. You can read Privacy International’s arguments here.
Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, English PEN also have a case challenging the UK government’s surveillance of our data at the European Court of Human Rights. You can keep track of the progress of the case at the dedicated Privacy not Prism campaign site.
April 7, 2014
Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Police, Research and reports, Surveillance, Technology
Last November we launched our ‘Time for Transparency’ campaign, revealing new polling that showed 66% of people want more information about how surveillance powers are used, with 70% wanting companies like BT and EE to publish their own reports about the requests they receive, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft now regularly release.
Today we are publishing a paper detailing further proposals to improve transparency, following wide ranging discussions with companies, regulators and political figures, as well as discussions with people in the United States. The paper outlines how the Interception of Communications Commissioner should publish a breakdown of how individual agencies use powers to access communications information – currently just one total figure is published – as well as calling for clarification about whether British companies are handing over data ‘in bulk’ on thousands or millions of customers.
A report, by Reporters without Borders, has accused GCHQ and the NSA of being no better than their Chinese and Russian counterparts in terms of online censorship and surveillance.
The report entitled Enemies of the Internet is released to coincide with World Day Against Cyber-Censorship and comes on the same day that Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for a Digital Bill of Rights to safeguard an “open, neutral” internet. It identifies specific government agencies such as GCHQ that have used the pretext of national security to move beyond their core duties and into the strategy of mass online surveillance that is prevalent today.
If you use Yahoo! chat then the answer may well be yes.
Today’s remarkable revelation that GCHQ has been capturing images (a “surprising” number of which were of people who may not have been fully clothed)
As the Guardian reports:
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets. We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes.
It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate intrusion on people’s privacy.
It is becoming increasingly obvious how badly the law has failed to keep pace with technology and how urgently we need a comprehensive review of surveillance law and oversight structures. As more people buy technology with built-in cameras, from Xbox Kinect to laptops and smart TVs, we need to be sure that the law does not allow for them to be routinely accessed when there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.
Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.
February 10, 2014
Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, GCHQ, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Technology, Terrorism Legislation, United States
Big Brother Watch was invited to submit a paper to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, relating to it’s inquiry into the balance between security and privacy.
You can now read our submission below.
In a Democratic society, some secrecy is tolerated, as are some intrusions upon liberty and privacy, provided the legal framework is transparency, the oversight mechanisms robust and the overall sacrifices of liberty made with an appropriate level of understanding.
Recent revelations have made clear the scale of intrusion on our privacy in the name of security, enabled by an explosion in digital communications and the computing resources available to the state.
Ministers have assured the public no central database of internet communications would be created. We now know it existed already. Parliament and the public were not informed by Ministers, the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Commissioners.
Today, some of the world’s biggest technology companies have spelled out the principles that they believe should underpin the balance between privacy and security online.
In full page advertisements eight firms, including Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, signed a joint letter calling for Governments to adopt the following principles to underpin a reform of surveillance legislation:
- Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information:
- Oversight and Accountability
- Transparency about Government Demands
- Respecting the Free Flow of Information
- Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments
We wholeheartedly support these principles and call for the British Government to take urgent steps to adopt them.
December 3, 2013
Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States
Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.
Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.
Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.
Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.
We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.