The UK spy agency GCHQ [official website] is facing a legal challenge [press release] in the European Human Rights Court (ECHR) [official websites] to its online surveillance programs. Claims [text, PDF] filed in the ECHR on Thursday allege that the massive programs, which are able to read the content of e-mails and social media messages, have breached the privacy of tens of millions of people [Guardian report] across the UK and Europe. The claims stem from revelations by Edward Snowden, who released documents indicating the expansive capacity of the surveillance [JURIST report] program.
The revelations surrounding the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In June the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy websites] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Snowden, who came forward [Guardian report] in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. Snowden is a 29-year-old former CIA technical worker that accessed the surveillance files when he was contracted as a civilian to work on projects for the NSA. He stated in an interview with The Guardian that he released the material because he believed the surveillance violated the right to privacy.