GCHQ, the U.K. government’s intelligence and cybersecurity arm, faces a claim in the European Court of Human Rights from three British campaign groups over the alleged breach of privacy of millions of citizens.
Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group, English PEN and German Internet activist Constanze Kurz announced the challenge to the Strasbourg-based court today. They allege the amount of data, such as e-mails, the U.K. spy agency has collected is illegal.
U.S. and U.K. authorities have come under intense pressure over their surveillance policies since journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained secret documents from a fugitive security analyst in May. Edward Snowden, who was contracted to work for the National Security Agency, leaked documents revealing the extent to which the NSA used phone and Internet data to monitor U.S. citizens. Snowden has been granted asylum in Russia.
“The laws governing how Internet data is accessed were written when barely anyone had broadband access and were intended to cover old fashioned copper telephone lines,” Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said in an e-mailed statement. “Parliament did not envisage or intend those laws to permit scooping up details of every communication we send.”
The U.K. Foreign Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the case at the human-rights court.