The British and US spy programmes that allow intelligence agencies to gather, store and share data on millions of people have been challenged in a legal claim brought by privacy campaigners.
Papers filed on Monday call for an immediate suspension of Britain’s use of material from the Prism programme, which is run by America’s National Security Agency.
They also demand a temporary injunction to the Tempora programme, which allows Britain’s spy centre GCHQ to harvest millions of emails, phone calls and Skype conversations from the undersea cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the country.
Lawyers acting for the UK charity Privacy International say the programme is not necessary or proportionate. They say the laws being used to justify mass data trawling are being abused by intelligence officials and ministers, and need to be urgently reviewed.
The group was prompted into legal action by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and the leak of top secret papers he gave to the Guardian. This led to a series of stories about the extent of modern-day surveillance and the disclosure of activities that have provoked a worldwide debate about the behaviour of western intelligence agencies.
Campaigners fear Britain is circumventing its own rules to make it easier to get intelligence, and that the emails and calls of Britons are almost certainly being swept up by the NSA.
“The contents of an individual’s phone calls and emails and the websites they visit can be information of a obviously private nature,” the claim says.
“If UK authorities are to be permitted to access such information in relation to those located in the UK in secret and without their knowledge or consent, the European convention on human rights (ECHR) requires there to be a legal regime in place which contains sufficient safeguards against abuse of power and arbitrary use. There is no such regime.”
In modern communications, emails and phone calls made in the UK pass electronically through the US and can be intercepted by the NSA.
“Through their access to the US programme, UK authorities are able to obtain private information about UK citizens without having to comply with any requirements of Ripa,” the claim argues.
The NSA spies on UK Citizens and then the NSA give the UK authorities access to that data, thus circumventing the need for the British Domestic spying agencies to comply with their own laws - nice.