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GCHQ mass spying of UK citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google was illegal, secret court rules in shock decision


The Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) building on the west of Cheltenham
The Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) building on the west of Cheltenham

GCHQ's mass surveillance of British citizens online has been ruled illegal in a shock decision by the UK's most secretive court.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled that intelligence services' access to information, intercepted by the NSA, breached human rights laws - but only prior to December last year.

The IPT has never ruled against any intelligence agency since it was set up in 2000 to keep Britain’s intelligence agencies in check. It found in December that GCHQ’s access to the data was lawful from that point onward. That decision is now being appealed.

But the court said today that historical collection was unlawful because the rules governing how the UK could access information received from the NSA were kept secret.

It concerned practises disclosed as part of documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, and related to information found through the NSA’s PRISM and UPSTREAM surveillance programmes.

PRISM allegedly allowed the NSA access to data from companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Skype. UPSTREAM allowed the NSA to intercept data through the fibre optic cables that power the internet.

The ruling comes after a legal challenge brought by civil liberties groups Privacy International, Bytes for All, Amnesty International and Liberty. Some of those groups will now seek to find whether their information was collected through the programmes and ask for that information to be deleted.

"For far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law,” said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International. “Today’s decision confirms to the public what many have said all along — over the past decade, GCHQ and the NSA have been engaged in an illegal mass surveillance sharing program that has affected millions of people around the world.”

Read more:

David Cameron could ban encrypted chat services such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage under new surveillance plans 

Edward Snowden shuns iPhones due to secret software that can be remotely activated to spy on people, says lawyer


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