Privacy International Lodges Legal Challenge To Official Secrecy Surrounding GCHQ Spying
from the blanket-exemption dept
Although the scale of the surveillance being carried out by the NSA and GCHQ is daunting, digital rights groups are starting to fight back using the various legal options available to them. That's particularly the case for the UK, where activists are trying to penetrate the obsessive secrecy that surrounds GCHQ's spying activities. Back in December, we wrote about three groups bringing an action against GCHQ in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and how Amnesty International is using the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) to challenge the spying.
Another organization that filed a complaint against the UK government at the IPT is Privacy International. But not content with that, it has now taken further legal action, this time in order to obtain information about GCHQ's role in the "Five Eyes" system, the global surveillance club made up of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand:
In order to shed light on this secret intelligence-sharing agreement, which effectively binds the Five Eyes as one intelligence agency, Privacy International, represented by Leigh Day & Co solicitors, filed a legal challenge against the British Government in the European Court of Human Rights. Europe's highest human rights court is the most appropriate venue for such an international agreement, and has a strong history of ensuring intelligence agencies are compliant with human rights law.
This follows repeated unsuccessful attempts to obtain this information using traditional channels:
The challenge comes after Privacy International filed Freedom of Information requests in all Five Eyes countries compelling them to release the details of the agreement, which has a profound impact on the enjoyment and fulfilment of human rights around the world. Governments in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand denied to publish the secret agreement. In the United Kingdom, GCHQ invoked a blanket exemption that excuses it from any obligation to be transparent about its activities. The same exemption was also invoked by the agency when Privacy International asked for mundane information such as GCHQ's cafeteria menu.
Privacy International obviously hopes that the ECHR will issue a judgment that the UK government is wrong to withhold the information about how GCHQ operates within the Five Eyes system. The trouble is, even if the ECHR does rule in favor of Privacy International, it's extremely unlikely that the UK government will take much notice. But as a way of ensuring that the spotlight remains on the disproportionate and unconstrained way that GCHQ is spying on citizens in the UK and around the world, it's as good as any.