[JURIST] The UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Friday that the UK’s mass surveillance of citizens’ Internet use violates humans rights law. The IPT’s purpose is to review complaints related to UK intelligence agencies, but the body is secretive. The IPT specified that the Government Communications Headquarters received unlawful access to e-mail and phone records, and the US National Security Agency (NSA) [official websites] intercepted the records. Justice Burton delivered the opinion of the tribunal, declaring that intelligence sharing between the US and UK was unlawful before December 2014 because the rules that governed the UK’s access to the NSA’s PRISM and UPSTREAM programs were private. This ruling marks the first time the IPT has ruled against an intelligence agency in 15 years.
The focus on protection against surveillance comes largely as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents, including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. One of the first challenges to NSA activities came in June 2013, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court just days after Snowden claimed responsibility for the leaks. As the outcry over the revelations began to expand in scope and severity, several other human rights groups decided to sue as well. The following month both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center [advocacy websites] filed suit alleging [JURIST report] similar claims, on the behalf of a coalition of 19 separate organizations. In July civil liberties groups sued [JURIST report] the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) [official website] known as MI6, alleging that the agency accesses data from undersea cables in violation of the rights to private life and freedom of expression.