The human rights organisation Privacy International launched a campaign to allow anyone in the world to put in a formal request to find out if GCHQ has illegally spied on them under two schemes (PRISM and UPSTREAM) run in conjunction with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).
The campaign follows a ruling that found GCHQ had gathered communications data in breach of articles eight and ten of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article eight refers to the right to respect for private and family life and article ten protects freedom of expression.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), on February 6, 2015, found that prior to the disclosures made in a previous judgement of December 5, 2014, “the regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities pursuant to Prism and/or Upstream, contravened Articles 8 or 10 ECHR”.
Privacy International told Sputnik that, by February 18, more than 10,000 people had signed up to its campaign, in which it intends to collate the inquiries from around the world and submit them to the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
Those who have been found to have been illegally spied on can seek the deletion of their records, including emails, phone records, and internet communications.
Given the mass surveillance capabilities of the NSA and GCHQ, and that the agencies “share by default” the information they collect, an unlimited number of people could have been affected by the unlawful spying.
The case brought before the IPT came as a result of ex-NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden – now in his second year in temporary asylum in Moscow – whose leaked documents provided the facts needed to challenge the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship.
Spying on All Fronts: PRISM and UPSTREAM
The Snowden leaks alleged that GCHQ has had intermittently unrestricted access to PRISM – the NSA's means of directly accessing data and content handled by some of the world’s largest Internet companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.
GCHQ also has had access to the NSA’s mass surveillance programme UPSTREAM, that exploits the US geographical position as the internet and telecommunications switching centre for the world and involves the interception of fibre optic cables running through the country.
Other programmes part of UPSTREAM to which GCHQ has had access include CO-TRAVELLER, which collects five billion locational records a day, and DISHFIRE which harvests 194 million text messages daily. The top five programmes within UPSTREAM created 160 billion interception records in one month alone.
According to Privacy International, GCHQ’s access to NSA material therefore makes up the large bulk of all surveillance material handled by the security services. Some ex- GCHQ staff estimate that “95 percent of all SIGINT [signals intelligence material] handled at GCHQ is American”.
In his witness statement to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in May 2014, Charles Farr, Director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the UK Home Office said: “The immense value of [GCHQ’s relationships with the NSA] for the UK in part reflects the fact that the US intelligence agencies are far larger and much better resourced than the Intelligence Services… In simple terms, the US can provide the UK with intelligence that the UK with its far more limited resources could not realistically obtain by itself.”