Privacy campaigners launch legal challenge to UK communications laws

Privacy groups will on Monday begin a legal challenge against mass surveillance of communications by the UK government, just days after plans to fast-track new security powers through parliament were announced.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron gives his opening address to the 2014 CeBIT trade fair

UK Prime Minister David Cameron

Privacy International, Amnesty International, Liberty, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups allege UK security agencies have illegally used mass surveillance programmes to intercept communications. The groups have filed a series of legal complaints against the practices that are due to be aired by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in a hearing that begins on Monday, July 14.

Central to the civil liberties groups' arguments is a surveillance operation named Tempora, which was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden but of which the UK government has not confirmed or denied the existence, the BBC reported.

According to the allegations, Tempora enables GCHQ to tap into fibre communications, and store data for up to 30 days to enable it to be analysed. The campaigners argue that is a breach of human rights and democratic principles.

In a Privacy International statement, Michael Bochenek, senior director for law and policy at Amnesty International, noted that: "For the first time, UK intelligence agencies will have to answer for their activities and defend their indefensible policy for mass surveillance."

Bochenek accused the UK government of trying to detract attention from the hearing by announcing plans to fast track new monitoring laws through parliament a few days before the enquiry began.

"The UK government is manipulating national laws to ensure it can continue to flout international ones," he commented, adding: "Clearly Number 10 would rather move the goalposts than play by the rules."

Prime Minister David Cameron, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, revealed plans to pass legislation requiring communications service providers (CSPs) to store metadata on phone calls and web usage in the space of a week, compared to the several months it typically takes for legislation to pass through parliament.

The political leaders argued the move will restore powers to security services that were struck down by the European Court of Justice in April, and give legal certainty to CSPs over the collection and storage of metadata.

For more:
- read this BBC report
- see Privacy International's statement

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