The U.K. Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that the U.K.'s secret bulk collection by the GCHQ between 1998 and near the end of 2015 violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and was never approved as legal by the U.K. parliament.
|The GCHQ is the Government Communications Headquarters. The program was first revealed by Edward Snowden. Key points in the Tribunal findings can be found here. The program, or rather programs, allowed the U.K. surveillance agency, the GCHQ, to build up a detailed database of communications with little to no oversight. The bulk collection included a whole year's worth of call data and location records from every cell phone in the U.K. The collection had been kept secret from the public and beyond the reach of the courts. If it were not for the revelations of Edward Snowden the data collection probably would never have been revealed. Snowden is in Russia at present. If he returns to the U.S. he would no doubt face criminal charges. Although some have urged that Snowden be pardoned this seems highly unlikely.|
The official public response from the government didn’t touch on the 17 years of unlawful practice, but merely declared it was “pleased the tribunal has confirmed the current lawfulness of the existing bulk communications data and bulk personal dataset regimes”. While underplaying the significance of this ruling, the government is ebullient about how Theresa May’s investigatory powers bill – more commonly known as the snooper’s charter – will usher in a new era of transparency, honesty and rigorous oversight.The government also appears to have supplemented its former " neither confirm nor deny" policy when questioned about surveillance programs by a policy of never apologizing about the programs and explaining as little as possible when they are revealed.
"There are huge risks associated with the use of bulk communications data. It facilitates the almost instantaneous cataloguing of entire populations' personal data. It is unacceptable that it is only through litigation by a charity that we have learnt the extent of these powers and how they are used. The public and Parliament deserve an explanation as to why everyone's data was collected for over a decade without oversight in place and confirmation that unlawfully obtained personal data will be destroyed."Yet there is no apology or even mention of the misdeeds in the U.K. Home Office statement about the report:
The powers available to the security and intelligence agencies play a vital role in protecting the U.K. and its citizens. We are therefore pleased the tribunal has confirmed the current lawfulness of the existing bulk communications data and bulk personal dataset regimes."