+Docs Revelations in documents leaked by former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden accidentally made British spies' data-sharing relationship with the US NSA lawful by making the secret relationship public, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled today.
In a bizarre twist of events the Tribunal declared that intelligence sharing between the United States and the United Kingdom had been unlawful prior to December 2014, because the rules governing the UK’s access to the NSA’s PRISM and UPSTREAM programmes were kept secret.
Prior to December last year, the secret policy breached Article 8, the right to a private life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression without State interference, the tribunal said.
Yet it was only due to revelations contained in the documents leaked by Snowden that the intelligence sharing relationship became subject to public scrutiny.
The decision marks the first time that the Tribunal, the only UK court empowered to oversee GHCQ, MI5 and MI6, has ever ruled against the intelligence and security services in its 15 year history, said watchdog charity Privacy International.
The claimants in the case are Privacy International, Bytes for All, Liberty and Amnesty International.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: "The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by Government to release previously secret 'arrangements'. That is plainly not enough to fix what remains a massive loophole in the law, and we hope that the European Court decides to rule in favour of privacy rather than unchecked State power."
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said: “We now know that, by keeping the public in the dark about their secret dealings with the National Security Agency, GCHQ acted unlawfully and violated our rights. That their activities are now deemed lawful is thanks only to the degree of disclosure Liberty and the other claimants were able to force from our secrecy-obsessed Government.
The IPT ruling said: "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 (on the Claimants’ case) Upstream, contravened Articles 8 or 10 ECHR.
However, according to the ruling, "it now complies with the said Articles".
GCHQ welcomed the tribunal's verdict, according to comments obtained by Sky News reporter Tom Cheshire.
GCHQ meanwhile say: 'We are pleased that the Court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful'— Tom Cheshire (@tomcheshiresky) February 6, 2015
The spy agency later gave The Register a fuller statement welcoming the judgement. A spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the Court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful. It follows the Court’s clear rejection of accusations of ‘mass surveillance’ in their December judgment.”
It said the court ruling that the public disclosure of two paragraphs of additional detail, voluntarily disclosed by the government during the litigation, were "essential to make the public regime sufficiently foreseeable and therefore fully compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights."
The spokesman added: "Today’s IPT ruling re-affirms that the processes and safeguards within the intelligence-sharing regime were fully adequate at all times - it is simply about the amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain.
"We welcome the important role the IPT has played in ensuring that the public regime is sufficiently detailed." ®