Rights group takes British spy agency to court

A special court in London on Monday, 14 July 2014, began listening to a claim against Britain’s spy agencies by a civil liberties group, which said its private communications may have been illegally monitored.

Liberty said there was “a reasonable likelihood” that GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 could have used the electronic surveillance programme Tempora – whose existence was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden – to spy on it.

It also said the spy agencies had illegally received communications data from the United States, via the National Security Agency’s Prism programme. Both acts contravened the group’s rights under under Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, said Liberty, which is also acting on behalf of other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International.

The public hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in London, which investigates complaints against British intelligence agencies, is expected to end later this week.

The case comes just days after Prime Minister David Cameron announced that emergency legislation would be passed this week to allow security agencies continuing access to telephone and internet data.

The move was essential, he said, because a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice threw out an EU directive obliging telecoms companies to keep the data for 12 months because it interfered with the right to respect for private life.

The move was strongly criticised by rights groups including Liberty.

“Not content with forcing service providers to keep details of our calls and browsing histories, the government is fighting to retain the right to trawl through our communications with anyone outside and many inside the country,” said Liberty’s legal director James Welch on Monday.

“When will it learn that it is neither ethical nor efficient to turn everyone into suspects?”

Snowden, whose asylum in Russia is due to expire at the end of this month, also condemned the legislation in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

“Is it really going to be so costly for us to take a few days to debate where the line should be drawn about the authority and what really serves the public interest?” he said.

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Rights group takes British spy agency to court