Campaigners challenge GCHQ data collection practices



Campaigners have filed a legal claim with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that could end bulk data interception by UK intelligence agencies.

UK charity Privacy International has filed the claim, arguing that GCHQ should end the bulk collection of data, which recently became illegal in the US with the passing of last week’s Freedom Act.

A similar programme of bulk data collection by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US was revealed to the public by whiste-blower Edward Snowden in 2013.

The organisation claims that it has made the first UK legal challenge to bulk data collection, and notes that “the equivalent NSA power has now been curtailed before the debate this side of the pond has even begun”.

It has criticised the fact that GCHQ is operating with “no proper legal regime in place, with no restrictions on which datasets can be collected, how long they can be stored for, or accessed”.

The challenge is being brought to the IPT because it is the judicial body set up to hear complaints about UK intelligence services and surveillance by public organisations.

Privacy International is also pursuing a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights against decisions made in December 2014 and February 2015.

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: “Secretly ordering companies to hand over their records in bulk, to be data-mined at will, without independent sign off or oversight, is a loophole in the law the size of a double-decker bus.

“The use of these databases, some volunteered, some stolen, some obtained by bribery or coercion, have already been abused, and will continue to be, until the practice is overhauled, and proper protections put in place.

“That the practice started, and continues without a legal framework in place, smacks of an agency who sees itself as above the law.

“How can it be that the US is so much further ahead on this issue? With the USA Freedom Act now passed, the equivalent NSA power has now been curtailed before the debate this side of the pond has even begun.

“Bulk collection of data about millions of people who have no ties to terrorism, nor suspected of any crime is plainly wrong. That our government admits most of those in the databases are ‘unlikely to be of intelligence value’ but that the practice has been allowed to continue, shows just how off course we really are.”