Advocacy groups challenge UK electronic surveillance legislation

[JURIST] Civil liberties groups on Monday sued the UK's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) [official website] known as MI6, alleging that the agency accesses data from undersea cables in violation of the rights to private life and freedom of expression. The case will be heard [AP report] by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal [official website]. The existence of the surveillance program, allegedly named TEMPORA, has not been confirmed by British officials. The emergency legislation [bill, PDF], passed last week, covers the collection of metadata, which Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] claims is necessary to protect the country from criminals and terrorists. The new law follows an April Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) [official website] ruling [text] that blanket data retention breaches the right to privacy.

The focus on protection against surveillance comes largely as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former US National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents last year exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. One of the first challenges to NSA activities came in June of last year, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court just days after Snowden claimed responsibility for the leaks. As the outcry over the revelations began to expand in scope and severity, several other human rights groups decided to sue as well. The following month both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed suit alleging similar claims, on the behalf of a coalition of 19 separate organizations [advocacy websites, JURIST reports]. In August the UN announced [JURIST report] that it would be inquiring into US surveillance activities, specifically reports indicating the NSA had hacked internal UN communications. EU officials expressed concern [JURIST report] in October that NSA surveillance could have a counterintuitive impact on the fight against terrorism, due to the increased distrust of the US in light of the revelations. On November 1, Brazil and Germany proposed [JURIST report] their draft resolution on the issue to the General Assembly, which does not specifically target any nation but rather seeks to increase protections against any unreasonable surveillance, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators or the targets.

 

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