Monday, February 09, 2015

GCHQ's mass-surveillance was illegal

Over the wekeend, the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal dropped a bombshell, ruling that GCHQ's NSA-assisted mass-surveillance programmes had been illegal:

The regime that governs the sharing between Britain and the US of electronic communications intercepted in bulk was unlawful until last year, a secretive UK tribunal has ruled.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) declared on Friday that regulations covering access by Britain’s GCHQ to emails and phone records intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) breached human rights law.

Advocacy groups said the decision raised questions about the legality of intelligence-sharing operations between the UK and the US. The ruling appears to suggest that aspects of the operations were illegal for at least seven years – between 2007, when the Prism intercept programme was introduced, and 2014.

The reason that they're legal now is that this lawsuit forced GCHQ to "disclose" (create) some "safeguards" which supposedly protect UK citizens from having their private communications randomly snooped through. Except that because its all done in secret, we'll never know if those safeguards are actually being followed, or if they've just told the Tribunal what it wanted to hear and kept on doing exactly what they were always doing.

Meanwhile, this raises an obvious question: what would a new Zealand court make of the GCSB's activities/ Sadly, secrecy and state-secrets privilege mean that we'll never know.