Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Challenging the panopticon in the UK

Last month we learned that Britain's GCHQ was tapping fibre-optic cables into and out of the UK and recording all international phone and internet traffic. Their legal justification was a tenuous interpretation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Now, that interpretation is being challenged in the UK courts:

The British and US spy programmes that allow intelligence agencies to gather, store and share data on millions of people have been challenged in a legal claim brought by privacy campaigners.

Papers filed on Monday call for an immediate suspension of Britain's use of material from the Prism programme, which is run by America's National Security Agency.

They also demand a temporary injunction to the Tempora programme, which allows Britain's spy centre GCHQ to harvest millions of emails, phone calls and Skype conversations from the undersea cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the country.

Lawyers acting for the UK charity Privacy International say the programme is not necessary or proportionate. They say the laws being used to justify mass data trawling are being abused by intelligence officials and ministers, and need to be urgently reviewed.

Sadly, the UK recently passed a law allowing them to use secret evidence in civil claims where "national security" is affected. While primarily aimed at shutting down embarrassing torture compensation claims from their victims in Iraq and Afghanistan, they will no doubt use it here. But the result will be that we can have no faith whatsoever in the outcome. If its not done openly, in open court, with the evidence available to and assessable by all, then we have no reason to believe any resulting decision is based on the merits, rather than merely a corrupt government's desire to brush its embarrassment under the carpet.