Investigatory Powers Tribunal rejects assertions of mass surveillance
News article - 05 Dec 2014
GCHQ is not acting within an unlawful regime or seeking to carry out ‘mass’ or ‘bulk’ surveillance.
These were the findings of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) on 5 December in a landmark judgement on the compatibility of the regimes which govern GCHQ’s interception of communications and receipt of information from foreign partners, with the European Convention on the right to privacy and freedom of speech.
The findings put it beyond doubt that GCHQ does not seek to conduct mass surveillance, nor does the statutory framework permit some conduct. This adds to and supports the independent conclusions of the Interception of Communications Commissioner in his 2013 report and the statement by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, following its investigation into the receipt of intelligence by the UK from the US PRISM programme.
The case was brought against HMG by a range of non-governmental organisations, following the leaks of stolen information by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. They include Privacy, Liberty and Amnesty International, alongside a number of other non UK-based bodies.
The IPT, a judicial body which investigates and determines complaints against the UK intelligence agencies, reached its findings after a series of open and closed hearings.
Five senior legal professionals concluded that the legal regimes governing the interception of communications under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 are lawful and compliant with Articles 8 (right to privacy) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Similarly, it concluded that the arrangements governing the receipt of intercept from foreign partners are lawful and meet the requirements of Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR. These legal regimes were found to contain adequate and effective safeguards aimed at protecting privacy rights.
The IPT’s further findings are as follows:
- Developments in communications technology have not made any of the provisions within RIPA ambiguous or unfit for purpose
- No difference of view as to the precise definition of external communications causes the RIPA 8(4) regime to be unlawful
- There is no inadequacy in the section 16 safeguards within RIPA as alleged by the claimants
- The RIPA 8(4) regime is not discriminatory
Key Quotes from the Judgement:
"...we are entirely clear that the Respondents are not seeking, nor asserting that the system entitles them to seek to carry out what has been described as ‘mass’ or ‘bulk’ surveillance".
"…There is no radical change, notwithstanding the dispute about some parts of the communications. We are not satisfied that any provision in RIPA has become itself ambiguous."
"…the Snowden revelations in particular have led to the impression, voiced in some corners, that the law in some way permits the intelligence services carte blanche to do what they will. We are satisfied that this is not the case."