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Germany questions GCHQ monitoring

Germany has directly challenged British ministers over GCHQ's reported programme of the mass monitoring of global phone and internet traffic.

Justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has to written Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and Home Secretary Theresa May questioning the legal basis for the programme code-named Project Tempora, The Guardian reported.

She warned the UK ministers that she intends to raise the issue at next month's meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels. Her concerns were said to have been reinforced by a phone call from the justice ministry in Berlin to Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice.

The move reflects growing anger in Germany at the disclosures of the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden over the surveillance activities of GCHQ and its American counterpart, the National Security Agency.

In her letter, Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger asks for clarification of the legal basis for Project Tempora and whether it has been authorised by any judicial authority. She also questions whether the collection of data - which is held for up to 30 days - is triggered by "concrete suspicions" or whether is part of a general trawl.

"I feel that these issues must be raised in a European Union context at minster's level and should be discussed in the context of ongoing discussions on the EU data protection regulation," she wrote.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed on Tuesday night that it had received Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger's letter and would respond "in due course". A Home Office spokesman said: "We do not routinely comment on private correspondence."

Earlier the civil liberties group, Liberty, said it had requested a formal investigation by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal into whether British intelligence services unlawfully accessed its communications. It said it believes its electronic communications - and those of its staff - "may have been unlawfully accessed by the likes of the Security Services and GCHQ".

"Liberty will ask the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) whether the British Intelligence Services have used Prism and/or Tempora to bypass the formal UK legal process which regulates the accessing of personal material," it announced. It has issued a claim "contending that rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (the right to respect for one's private and family life, home and correspondence) have been breached".

Legal director James Welch said: "Those demanding the Snoopers' Charter seem to have been indulging in out-of-control snooping even without it - exploiting legal loopholes and help from Uncle Sam. No one suggests a completely unpoliced internet but those in power cannot swap targeted investigations for endless monitoring of the entire globe."

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