In the UK the GCHQ is overseen only by the secret proceedings of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal- the equivalent to the US’s FISA court. In recent times the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has admitted that the GCHQ spies on every Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google user in the UK and even human rights group, Privacy International. This last fact in itself is very dangerous. Governments have the power to conduct clandestine surveillance on non-governmental organizations (NGO) and further target their surveillance at those that they perceive as their ‘enemies.’ This spells disaster not only for the effort to unlock more information about mass surveillance but also in NGOs’ ability to protect their sources and contacts such as whistleblowers, lawyers, journalists, and human rights abuse victims.
Privacy International and Human Rights Watch are seen as a threat to GCHQ and the NSA because they have been pushing non-stop to bring mass surveillance efforts into the open. Data Sharing is but the latest front that they have been doing this on.
In the first few months of this year, Privacy International launched a campaign called “Did GCHQ Illegally Spy On You?” Which enabled anyone in the world to find out if their data had been shared from the NSA to the GCHQ. They were able to gather over 25,000 people interested in finding out.
With the goal of preventing, or at least slowing down, this process the IPT issued an order that said each individual must submit their own request for information. In response to this, Privacy International has made it exceptionally easy to do this through a web based program.
This campaign comes after the IPT ruled this year that the GCHQ had accessed data in a way that violated free expression and privacy rights. This ruling on data sharing gives the Human Rights Watch and Privacy International the window they need to continue to pursue this topic.
Curiously, though, the IPT has not told any claimant if their data was unlawfully shared. However, as long as your request is submitted before December 5th, 2015 the IPT must tell you if your information was shared between the NSA and GCHQ before December 2014.
Data Sharing as Payment
Along with the revamping of the Privacy International campaign Human Rights Watch- another enemy of mass surveillance- has launched a new lawsuit along with 3 individuals. The claims are that the GCHQ unlawfully intercepted, used, retained and possibly shared communications with the NSA. Dinah PoKemper, general counsel at Human Rights Watch had this to say:
Mass-scale surveillance and data swapping without suspicion or independent oversight pose a grave threat to the lives, safety, and work of human rights defenders, researchers, journalists, lawyers, and their sources. We are bringing this case because confidentiality of communications is critical for those who work to protect human rights and expose abuses and war crimes.
The sharing doesnt end with the US and UK. Germany has also traded its own citizens’ data with the NSA. Apparently, after a year and a half of negotiations, the NSA and Germany’s domestic intelligence agency called, Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) were able to strike a deal.
According to documents obtained by the German paper Die Zeit the two agencies were able to agree that Germany would “to the maximum extent possible share all data relevant to NSA’s mission” in exchange for a watered down version of the XKEYSCORE program.
This newly obtained software may also be the cause of the BfV’s expansion. The increased budget and expanded personnel requirements were reported on by Netzpolitik, another German publication, whose reporters were subsequently under investigation for high treason. The investigation was stopped only a couple of days later after mass protests.
To further muddy the waters, ArsTechnica reports key personnel and committees were unaware of such a deal. The data protection commissioner at the time said, “I knew nothing about such an exchange deal.” The Parliamentary Control Panel also knew nothing about the program. Both parties said that “very general briefing[s] was only made after the panel had explicitly asked following the Snowden revelations.”
It’s easy to argue that the state of mass surveillance has been steadily tipping in favor of the people since 2013 when Edward Snowden released stolen documents. Since then, not only has the gross overreach of the NSA and GCHQ’s actions come to light but even the governments themselves are more likely to denounce spy agencies’ actions. There is no way to completely walk back all of the actions and abilities granted to governments in the past 2 decades. But it is quite clear that we as citizens can take a stance and resist further escalation.
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