Press statement : IPT exposes surveillance violations against EIPR

Press Release

23 June 2015

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), a British judicial body that hears complaints about surveillance by government bodies, determined on June 22, 2015 that the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), had spied on two non-governmental organizations, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the South Africa Legal Resources Center (LRC) in a manner that was in breach of their own rules and procedures regulating spying and communications surveillance.

The case was filed in 2013 following the Edward Snowden leaks, which revealed the scale of communications surveillance by British and US intelligence practiced through the direct interception or tapping into global communication infrastructure.

The leaks sparked numerous criticisms in and out of the UK and US, especially consdering that the intelligence agencies of the two countries were intercepting primarily foreign or exernal communications. It appears that the overwhelming majority of those affected by the mass surveillance were citizens of other countries. Multiple organisations concerned with civil liberties and privacy rights subsequently filed suits challenging the spying activities of the British government and its intelligence agencies, aiming to compel them to reveal the scope of the surveillance they were undertaking and the extent of its compliance with law and procedure. Among these suits was one filed by the UK-based civil liberties organisation Liberty. EIPR, the South African LRC, and other organizations around the world joined the lawsuit, suspecting that they may have been subject to surveillance that violated their privacy under the British surveillance program known as TEMPORA.

The IPT considered more than one suit filed by more than one party. The IPT's mandate is limited to issuing determinations on the lawfulness of communication interception or other surveillance activities conducted by British intelligence agencies. Yesterday it determined in the case submitted by Liberty that the EIPR and the LRC had their communications intercepted in a way that involved “technical” breaches.

Specifically, with regard to the EIPR the IPT said that the GCHQ had intercepted EIPR communications and “that it retained data for longer than the time permitted for statutory purposes.” The IPT ordered the GCHQ to destroy the files, but it did not find that the organizations had sustained any material harm as a result and therefore did not order the payment of any compensation.

In 2014, the EIPR joined organizations from more than nine countries in a lawsuit filed by Liberty before the European Court of Human Rights, challenging the same British intelligence bodies. The claimants hope that the European court—whose decisions are binding to the British government—will determine that the British government violated Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, related to the right to privacy and freedom of expression, and we hope will go further than the IPT by finding that the procedures regulating the operation of British intelligence agencies, particularly programs allowing the mass surveillance, do not have adequate safeguards and allow for spying and information collection in a manner that does not meet the tests of necessity and proportionality, two important tests that govern the work of executive state bodies including intelligence agencies in any democratic set up. We also hope that the court would issue a decision compelling the British government to make public it's secret rules and procedures governing such matters and to strengthen safeguards and authorisation processes required to for spying and surveillance activities.

This incident is probably just a drop in the sea of other such incidents of information gathered and communications intercepted and examined by British and American intelligence agencies under the PRISM and TEMPORA programs. As noted above, these breaches may affect citizens, organizations, and even governments in most countries of the world. The EIPR is part of an international movement and an alliance of civil liberties organizations that seek to resist and expose this unprecedented and global infringement on the right to privacy.

To read a copy of the IPT decision, click here.