GCHQ mass internet surveillance was unlawful, IPT rules

Pierluigi Paganini February 06, 2015

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has considered unlawful the GCHQ access to information gathered by the NSA through its massive surveillance programs.

The British intelligence GCHQ acted illegally in accessing millions of personal communications collected by the NSA, this is the judgment of The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that ruled against the national intelligence agency and security services.

The court established that “the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of the private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities” is unlawful and violated the articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which refer to the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression.

The “order” published on the IPT’s website early on Friday declared:

“The regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities … contravened Articles 8 or 10” of the European convention on human rights.”

Human rights organizations expressed doubts about the legality of intelligence operations run by the UK and the US intelligence agencies. Aspects of the operations were illegal for at least seven years, from 2007 and 2014.


The document disclosed by Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the massive surveillance program PRISM conducted by the NSA with the support of its allies, also known the Five Eyes.

Under the PRISM program, the NSA accessed data handled by major Internet companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. The National Security Agency was able to collect 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo and 82,857 from Facebook.

The documents also reported information about the NSA program codenamed Upstream, which referred the wiretapping of fiber optic cables carrying internet information. In just one month, the Upstream program allowed the cyber spies to collect nearly 160 billion interception records.

GCHQ and the NSA established a strict collaboration for the surveillance activities, they shared all the information gathered during the respective operations.

The IPT considered illegal the information sharing between GCHQ and the NSA, however a GCHQ spokesperson expressed disappointment in the latest ruling:

“We are pleased that the court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful. It follows the court’s clear rejection of accusations of ‘mass surveillance’ in their December judgment.” said a GCHQ spokesman “Today’s IPT ruling re-affirms that the processes and safeguards within the intelligence-sharing regime were fully adequate at all times – it is simply about the amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain.”

What will happen in the future?

The ruling would trigger massive claims against the intelligence services, principal organizations for the defense of Human Rights will request to access records related to their activities and members. On the other hand, the Intelligence agencies are already reorganizing their TTPs to continue to operate and protect their Homeland Security.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  GCHQ, massive surveillance)

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