GCHQ Squares Off Against Amnesty International at ECHR Over Privacy Violations

Christopher Sewerd In the News

Thanks to Edward Snowden it is no longer a secret that both the United States and United Kingdom are carrying out mass surveillance on the majority of the world. These revelations caused a stir within the privacy community and as a result of this human rights organisations are about to put the UK intelligence agency the GCHQ to task by taking them to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Privacy InternationalThe ECHR is the highest court in the European Union and is usually reserved for cases that have been heard in a member state’s court but failed to produce the outcome that the claimants hoped for. Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International are part of a larger group of NGOs taking the UK spy agency the GCHQ to the European Court after a similar court case brought in the UK failed to produce the required result.

The legal case has been brought about due to the revelations revealed by US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 who informed the world about the level of mass surveillance that is being carried out by both the US, UK and other governments.

The collaboration of privacy related NGOs are pushing for the UK government’s surveillance policies to be held to account as in their current form they are able to carry out surveillance on an unprecedented scale without any real public awareness of what they entail.

The privacy organisations have moved to the EHCR after the UK’s own Investigatory Powers Tribunal (PIT) which overseas intelligence agencies in the UK including GCHQ ruled that under UK law the spy organisations were compliant with human rights. Amnesty International along with the other organisations were unhappy with the result of that ruling due to large amounts of the proceedings being held in secret.

Mass surveillance is a violation of our fundamental rights. Intercepting millions of communications every day, and secretly receiving millions more from the NSA by the back door is neither necessary nor proportionate

Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International.

The case centres on the issue of if mass surveillance is a breach of human rights, the right to privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination which themselves are key aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Nick Williams of Amnesty International claims that the UK government has consistently said they are acting in the interests of national security yet by doing so he states they should not be allowed to ignore other human rights and must be transparent enough to allow public scrutiny and accountability.

One area of grave concern in the UK and the US is the way in which organisations such as the GCHQ and NSA use the services of each other to effectively bypass local laws. One revelation disclosed was how GCHQ has an arrangement with US authorities to access data that under UK law would be difficult to acquire.

The European court based in Strasbourg has the option to make a ruling on the case without a hearing although due to the complex nature of the case it is extremely unlikely. With the ECHR being the highest human rights court in the European Union it is likely to hold more open proceedings than the UK’s own IPT although the option to hold sessions behind closed doors is possible.