GCHQ's internet surveillance was unlawful

GCHQMinistry of DefenceGCHQ’s main office in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

A UK court has ruled that spy agency GCHQ’s internet surveillance has, in the past, been conducted unlawfully.

The Guardian is reporting that the Investigative Powers Tribunal (IPT) has ruled that GCHQ acted unlawfully in intercepting personal communications of millions of people.

The ruling applies to intelligence shared between the US and UK as part of the Prism project first exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The IPT ruled that all intelligence sharing with America before 2014 breached the Human Rights Act.

That’s a big difference to a ruling made by the tribunal in December. Back then it decided that GCHQ’s mass internet surveillance was, in fact, legal.

It’s a significant ruling by the IPT. It has never before ruled against the UK’s security services. It’s the only UK court that has the power to oversee GCHQ, as well as MI5 and MI6.

Sky News’ Tom Cheshire is reporting that the ruling could allow people to ask GCHQ to disclose what information it has stored about them.

GCHQ doesn’t seem concerned by the ruling. It sent this statement about the ruling:

We are pleased that the court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful. By its nature, much of GCHQ’s work must remain secret. But we are working with the rest of Government to improve public understanding about what we do and the strong legal and policy framework that underpins all our work. We continue to do what we can to place information safely into the public domain that can help to achieve this.

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