Human rights organisations have today made the most direct legal challenge against the UK and USA's surveillance activities since they were first revealed in 2013.
Despite the outcry against surveillance which followed the outpourings of rogue NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden, and a few successful legal challenges, the utility and lawfulness of bulk interception has been consistently upheld by courts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ten organisations including Privacy International, Liberty, and Amnesty International, have today filed a direct complaint against the UK and USA to the European Court of Human Rights.
The 115-page complaint [PDF] is the first to directly challenge programmes such as GCHQ's system Tempora, as well the NSA's Upstream collection programme, on the grounds that they are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Article 8 provides for a qualified right to privacy, a right that may be abridged if particular conditions are met, including that there are clear legal regimes regulating how governments may engage in surveillance against their populations.
The claimants are concerned that domestic courts and independent oversight mechanisms haven't been able to tackle the bulk interception of transnational data flows, and the sharing of such data between different government agencies, due to "institutional deficiencies" in some cases and "the geographically bounded jurisdiction of these mechanisms" in others.
Caroline Wilson Palow, General Counsel at Privacy International, said:
For years, the UK Government has been secretly intercepting enormous volumes of internet traffic flowing across its borders.
At the same time, it had and still has access to similarly vast troves of information intercepted by the US Government.
The UK court tasked with overseeing the UK intelligence agencies has sanctioned these bulk surveillance practices, normalizing state interception, retention, analysis and dissemination of personal communications and data at this scale.
Palow added: "We call on the European Court of Human Rights to reject this disturbing trend by finding that bulk surveillance is incompatible with the rights to privacy and freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights."
The applicants are: the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Bytes for All, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Legal Resources Centre, Liberty, and Privacy International. ®