Britain's eavesdropping nerve centre GCHQ has been accused of unlawfully accessing the private communications of potentially millions of people – and angry internet service providers are dragging the snooping agency to court.
ISPs and organisations from the US, UK, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Korea and Germany have teamed up with Privacy International to take legal action against the Brit spying agency in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations.
A complaint was lodged in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on Wednesday.
Claimants in the case argued that GCHQ had damaged "the trust in security and privacy that makes the internet such a crucial tool of communication and empowerment."
They have called for an end to "exploitation of networks maintaining communications infrastructure" and demanded that users whose rights may have been infringed are protected from further mass surveillance tactics, according to the allegations aired today.
Privacy International's deputy director Eric King said:
These widespread attacks on providers and collectives undermine the trust we all place on the internet and greatly endangers the world’s most powerful tool for democracy and free expression.
It completely cripples our confidence in the internet economy and threatens the rights of all those who use it. These unlawful activities, run jointly by GCHQ and the NSA, must come to an end immediately.
In response to the legal complaint, GCHQ told The Register it did not comment on "ongoing cases."
The Cheltenham-based spooks added their usual canned statement:
It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.
Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.
The United Kingdom's interception regime is entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.