Jim Killock from the UK Open Rights Group says, “The Open Rights group, Big Brother Watch, Constanze Kurz and English PEN are challenging the legality of the mass data hoovering by the UK government revealed by Edward Snowden. They need £20,000 to mount the challenge in the EU Court of Human Rights. They’ve raised over £3,000 in less than a day: please donate!”
This is very exciting, and looks like the kind of “impact litigation” we see a lot of in the USA, where activist groups can use high courts to strike down bad laws. It’s a very effective way of conducting an asymmetrical battle against entrenched, incumbent authorities. Even though I’ve already made my annual donation to ORG, I’ve kicked in another £100 for this.
Recent disclosures that the government routinely taps, stores and sifts through our internet data have alarmed experts and internet users alike. It is alleged that the government has used the US’s PRISM programme to access data on British citizens stored by US internet corporations. Through its own TEMPORA programme, the government is alleged to tap into the sub-ocean cables that carry the UK’s and the EU’s internet activities around the world and stores and sifts through that data, even if it is an email or a call between two British or EU citizens. Furthermore, the UK has granted the US National Security Agency unlimited access to this data.
These practices appear to have been authorized by government ministers on a routine ‘rolling’ basis, in secret. Existing oversight mechanisms (the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal) have failed. The legislation that is supposed to balance our rights with the interests of the security services is toothless.
That is why Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, English PEN and Constanze Kurz have taken the unusual step of instructing a legal team to pursue legal action on our behalf and on behalf of all internet users in the UK and EU. First, our lawyers wrote to the government demanding that it accepts that its authorization practices have been unlawful and that it consult on a new, transparent set of laws for the future. The government refused and invited us to submit a case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. But the Tribunal is a creature of the very statutory regime which has failed and would not offer an effective remedy. It is unable to rule that the legislative regime breaches our privacy rights, it is conducted largely in secret and there is no right of appeal. The European Court of Human Rights has previously decided that this tribunal does not provide an effective remedy for privacy victims. So we will take our case directly to the European Court of Human Rights. It will decide whether the government’s surveillance activities and the existing legislation sufficiently protect the privacy of UK and EU internet users.
Written by Cory Doctorow
(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am proud to volunteer on its advisory committee; I do not and have not ever received any money from the organisation)