Privacy Groups Denied U.K. Spying-Program Disclosure by Court

A U.K. court rejected a request by privacy groups to see additional documents that may relate to whether the government uses adequate measures to protect the public from surveillance programs.

The U.K. is being sued by Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International, which say surveillance activities exposed by U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden may be illegal.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a special court in London which investigates complaints about spying, ruled today that a three-page document previously released by the government is sufficient disclosure in the case. The document said the British government can use foreign intelligence without a warrant and keep it on a database for as long as two years.

The privacy groups sought the additional disclosure after the court yesterday ordered the release of government policies in relation to the surveillance of lawyers, in a related case involving Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan military commander.

“We are proceeding on hypothetical facts to challenge a whole regime,” Matthew Ryder, a lawyer for Liberty, said at today’s hearing. “Why aren’t we having disclosure of similar internal arrangements,” to the Belhaj case.

The U.K. Home Office declined to comment. At a previous hearing, lawyers for the government said that safeguards were in place to protect the public, though they can’t be made public.

Other Lawsuits

The U.K. faces lawsuits from human-rights groups, Internet hosting services and two Green Party lawmakers over its part in the interception of e-mails, communications, documents, videos and Web histories by U.S. security agencies, putting an unusual part of the British judiciary in the spotlight.

The debate over the monitoring of computers, laptops and mobile phones to access personal data by government agencies has intensified in the 16 months since documents leaked by Snowden exposed the extent of government spying.

Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the U.S., fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia after leaking classified documents on the NSA spying programs. The revelations have affected U.S. relations with allies around the globe, with the scandal creating a rift between the U.S. and Germany after the discovery that intelligence agents may have tapped the phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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