UK Tribunal Rules GCHQ Conducted Illegal Surveillance And Must Destroy Legally Privileged Documents

from the unlawful,-unnecessary-and-disproportionate dept

A couple of months ago, we reported on a surprising admission by the UK government that GCHQ has been carrying out illegal surveillance by monitoring privileged conversations between lawyers and their clients. As we noted at the time, the reason for this sudden access of conscience was simply that it knew it was going to lose an imminent case before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), the body that considers complaints about UK government surveillance. And that, indeed, is what has just happened. As the human rights organization Reprieve, which helped bring the legal action, explains, not only has GCHQ been found guilty of illegal spying, it has also been ordered to destroy the materials it collected as a result:

Today's decision marks the first time in the IPT's fifteen-year history that it has upheld a complaint against the security services. It is also thought to be the first time the secretive tribunal has ordered an intelligence agency to give up surveillance material.
The Reprieve post has more details about the case, which involves Sami al-Saadi, a former opponent of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. al-Saadi and his family were kidnapped in a joint MI6-CIA operation and 'rendered' to Libya in 2004, as was his colleague, the Libyan politician Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife:
Both families have brought civil claims against the then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, former MI6 counter-terror head Sir Mark Allen, and the UK Government for their kidnap. The al-Saadi family settled their civil claim in December 2012 for 2.2 million pounds; the Belhaj claim comes before the [UK] Supreme Court this year. A Metropolitan Police investigation into both kidnappings, Operation Lydd, is thought to be near conclusion
Whatever happens with those cases, the latest IPT judgment is another important step in forcing the UK government to acknowledge that its mass surveillance programs broke the law in numerous ways. Moreover, as Richard Stein, the lawyer who represented the families before the Tribunal, pointed out:
Today marks the end of GCHQ's standard boilerplate response that its activities are lawful, necessary and proportionate. GCHQ unlawfully spied on privileged legal communications for years, and the secret oversight mechanisms failed to stop it.
That alone would be reason enough to celebrate this decision. But the IPT's ruling is unsatisfactory in other respects:
The IPT made 'no determination' in favor of Mr Belhaj and his wife. The IPT can make 'no determination' either if there was no spying, or if the IPT finds that spying did take place but was lawful. But the couple may never know the precise reasons for the decision.
That's an indication that still more must be done to bring greater transparency and accountability to the UK's surveillance programs. Fortunately, as the UK government continues to lose the fight against legal challenges to its activities, it is being forced to move in that direction, albeit very slowly.

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Filed Under: gchq, ipt, privacy, surveillance, uk


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 2:28am

    Today only, one bridge in pristine condition, available to buy

    Today's decision marks the first time in the IPT's fifteen-year history that it has upheld a complaint against the security services. It is also thought to be the first time the secretive tribunal has ordered an intelligence agency to give up surveillance material.

    And if anyone here thinks that they will actually destroy any of the information that they've gathered, even after being ordered to do so by the court, I've got some lovely real-estate I'd be delighted to sell you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 4:33am

      Re: Today only, one bridge in pristine condition, available to buy

      I'm sure they'll destroy at least one copy. Maybe print it out and shred it. The backups are another issue though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      eye sea ewe, 30 Apr 2015 @ 5:29am

      Re: Today only, one bridge in pristine condition, available to buy

      Is that real estate in eastern or south eastern Florida?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 7:47am

      Re: Today only, one bridge in pristine condition, available to buy

      I imagine "destroying" a digital copy is pretty much the same thing as "stealing" one. They shouldn't mind doing it at least once.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 8:21am

      Re: Today only, one bridge in pristine condition, available to buy

      Really, a bridge? I'd try some square kilometers in the heavens or a small moon in Jupiter. Sounds as possible as the agency actually deleting all the data...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 4:49am

    I have absolute confidence that the GCHQ will pass on a full and complete copy of all that illegal surveillance (that it now has to destroy) to the NSA and other shared agencies before then destroying what they have been told to destroy so in future they then can go to the NSA to get them to send their copy back to them and say it came from the NSA to help with any investigation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 30 Apr 2015 @ 5:31am

      Re:

      "I have absolute confidence that the GCHQ has already passed on a full and complete copy of all that illegal surveillance"

      FTFY

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 5:47am

    In GCHQ's defense

    Can't GCHQ raise the defense that the documents are Mine! All Mine! They're all Mine I Tell You!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nastybutler77 (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 11:15am

    Tell me again why Snowden isn't a whistle-blower worth granting asylum to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    justme, 30 Apr 2015 @ 5:18pm

    asylum??

    Criminals often try to intimidate witnesses to there crimes!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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