Britain's spooks routinely rummage through reams of intelligence data from the NSA and other foreign spy agencies without first having to request a warrant, it has been claimed.
According to the human rights groups that brought the UK's snooping agency GCHQ to court in July this year, secret internal policies unveiled during a private hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal revealed that such data is kept on a "massive searchable database for up two years".
Privacy International, Amnesty International and other organisations lodged a legal complaint in the summer against the alleged interception activity between spies on both sides of the pond.
It has now been claimed that Blighty's eavesdropping nerve centre GCHQ was "forced" to reveal details of "previously unknown internal policies" in order that complainants could provide comment in the case.
In a joint press release, Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International alleged:
The "arrangements", as they are called by government, also suggest that intercept material received from foreign intelligence agencies is not subject to the already weak safeguards that are applied to communications that are intercepted by the UK's Tempora programme.
On the face of the descriptions provided to the claimants, the British intelligence agencies can trawl through foreign intelligence material without meaningful restrictions and can keep such material, which includes both communications content and metadata, for up to two years.
The orgs claimed that the "arrangements" showed "the inadequacies in RIPA to deal with intelligence agency co-operation".
Privacy International's deputy director, Eric King, added:
It is outrageous that the government thinks mass surveillance, justified by secret "arrangements" that allow for vast and unrestrained receipt and analysis of foreign intelligence material, is lawful. This is completely unacceptable, and makes clear how little transparency and accountability exists within the British intelligence community.
The UK's Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Anthony May, recently said that he was satisfied that GCHQ didn't use its chummy relations with US counterparts and other foreign agencies to swerve its obligations under RIPA.
A GCHQ spokesperson told The Register: "We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings." ®