Now Britains can ask – did you spy on me?

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

February 25, 2015

When you found out for the first time, during the Snowden revelations, that you had probably been spied on in some capacity by the NSA using Prism, did it ever cross your mind that it would be nice to somehow be able to check to see if you had? Now the British public have been given that chance.

A new website has been launched by Privacy International (PI), which allows any concerned British citizens to check to see if they were victims of illegal hacking performed by GCHQ (in cooperation with the NSA’s prism and upstream programs,) in the period prior to December 2014.

The website is a direct result of the February 6 ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), a court whose job it is to handle any cases that relate to British human rights affected by surveillance, and which decided that all hacking that took place before December 2014 was indeed illegal.

This decision has been welcomed, following the surprising ruling last December by the IPT, which concluded that now that the hacking is out in the open it is in accordance with European law, and may continue lawfully.

Pro-privacy groups likes Amnesty International and PI have said that they will appeal that decision at the European Court of Human Rights, and quite rightly so, after all worldwide public shock and outcry in reaction to the Edward Snowden revelations, was because people don’t want to be spied on at all, not because they want to know that they are being spied on.

Tonight is the television premier of CITIZENFOUR in the United Kingdom, (Channel 4, 11:05 pm), and the film should inspire and inform a large number of the British public, who may not be fully aware to the extent of the hacking that took place, and may assume that it was only America that was hacked using Prism.

After tonight more people than ever will be aware about what GCHQ was doing in the period prior to the Snowdon revelations, but unfortunately the movie will not also inform the British public that the IPT has decided that hacking is now legal. In its ruling the IPT decided that,

‘The ‘Snowden revelations’ in particular have led to the impression voiced in some quarters that the law in some way permits the Intelligence Services carte blanche to do what they will. We are satisfied that this is not the case… we have ruled that the current regime, both in relation to Prism and Upstream (another NSA program) when conducted in accordance with the requirements which we have considered, is lawful and human rights-compliant.’

I suppose its good to know that the IPT believe its OK for us to be spied on,  as long as the intelligence agencies tell us that they are doing it. Ridiculous.  Privacy International informs us that,

‘The [February] decision was the first time in the Tribunal’s history that it had ruled against the actions of the intelligence and security services.’

Which considering the IPT went the other way – in favor of the Intelligence Agencies – on the much more important issue, just months ago, seems rather too little too late, especially when you find out that  GCHQ is going to be carrying out the checking themselves.

The new ruling, at the least, means that any member of the British public who is concerned can now ask to see if they were illegally hacked during the pre-December 2014 period.

This wont happen automatically – a member of the public must use the new website to put in a request, PI will then pass on this request including their personal ‘selectors’ (or personal details) to GCHQ, who will then use these details (email addresses, names, phone numbers etc) to check whether that particular person’s communications’ were breached, and human rights therefore violated under Article 8 and Article 10 of the UK’s Human Rights Act.

The Electronic Frontiers Foundation do point out that by handing over these selectors to GCHQ,  people whose details (such as name and phone number) had not previously been brought together, may unwittingly be giving GCHQ new associations about themselves.

Although the EFF say that risk is relatively low, and PI are quick to note that –  ‘GCHQ are only allowed to keep your details for the purposes of establishing whether or not they spied on you illegally and for the duration of the investigation by the IPT,’ one feels rather glum at the prospect of people surging forward to share their details with GCHQ in order to find out if GCHQ used to spy on them, knowing full well that  IPT have ruled that GCHQ can now spy on them legally! Worrying. I myself would advise a little caution, as it doesn’t exactly seem ideal that GCHQ are the ones checking on themselves, that is for sure.

The Deputy Director of Privacy International, Eric King, however, is happy, and says,

‘There are few chances that people have to directly challenge the seemingly unrestrained surveillance state, but individuals now have a historic opportunity [to] finally hold GCHQ accountable for their unlawful actions.’

If you are an interested party for some particular reason, or you want to help push forward Privacy International’s campaign and check to see if you were illegally hacked, then do so by visiting the website.  The Electronic Frontiers Foundation says that,

‘The payoff is that the more people who sign on and learn that they’ve been affected by GCHQ and NSA spying, the clearer it becomes that reform to surveillance is urgently needed.’

That is one good reason, at least, to join PI’s campaign. By helping to bolster their efforts as they seek to take the case about whether GCHQ should be allowed to spy on Britons in the future to the European courts.

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