A trio of politicians are challenging the government in a rare public hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal today, alleging that British authorities ignored a ban on the tapping of MPs' and peers' telephones under a system of "blanket surveillance".
The government and spooks are being dragged to the tribunal by the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, and prominent Green Party and House of Lords member Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Jenny Jones), in the light of Edward Snowden's global surveillance revelations.
Alongside them is the former MP for Bradford West, George Galloway, who filed a separate case against the government which is being heard alongside that of Lucas and Baroness Jones.
"The blanket surveillance of the communications of parliamentarians could have a deeply chilling effect on our relationship with the public," said Lucas. "Parliamentarians must be a trusted source for whistleblowers and those wishing to challenge the actions of the government."
The legal grounding for the complaint is a ban on the tapping of MPs' and peers' telephones, which was introduced in 1966 by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. It is known as the Wilson Doctrine.
The Green Party politicians complain that even the collection of metadata would effectively be a breach of the doctrine and parliamentary privilege. They do not argue that MPs should be immune from such data collection, but follow the Anderson report's recommendations in requesting that such snooping receives judicial authorisation before it takes place.
Baroness Jones stated that the job of parliamentarians is to hold ministers to account and said that "if our communications are subject to blanket surveillance, and people are less able to freely contact us with important and sensitive revelations, then our ability to do our job is hugely curtailed."
Earlier this month, the High Court ruled in favour of two MPs who had challenged the government over the passing of the "emergency" Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014.
On 15 July, the Home Secretary told Parliament that "the Wilson Doctrine applies to parliamentarians. It does not absolutely exclude the use of these powers against parliamentarians, but it sets certain requirements for those powers to be used in relation to a parliamentarian".
"It is not the case that parliamentarians are excluded and nobody else in the country is, but there is a certain set of rules and protocols that have to be met if there is a requirement to use any of these powers against a parliamentarian," Theresa May added.
The hearing started at 10:30 this morning. ®