UK Surveillance Challenged in Europe

Rights groups have asked the European court to rule on the legality of the UK's large-scale surveillance regime.

Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International filed a legal complaint with the court today.

The surveillance carried out by GCHQ has been revealed by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and a similar legal challenge in the UK last year saw judges rule that the spying did not breach the human rights laws.

In a statement, Nick Williams legal counsel for Amnesty said: "The UK government's surveillance practices have been allowed to continue unabated and on an unprecedented scale, with major consequences for people's privacy and freedom of expression."

All three organisations claim the surveillance carried out by GCHQ breaches the European Convention on Human Rights that enshrines certain freedoms in law.

The surveillance has been subject to a series of legal challenges since Snowden exposed it, and have since started to appear in the media.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that oversees the work of intelligence services ruled that GCHQ's spying did not violate Britons' human rights and was a legitimate way of gathering intelligence.

In a separate ruling in February the IPT found that the spy agency's surveillance programme was unlawful. They said this was because the process governing how GCHQ shared information was not public enough.

Amnesty acknowledged these rulings, yet said the "secretive nature of IPT hearings meant that there was little transparency about the way GCHQ was being policied," which they felt was undermining the faith people had in official oversight of the agency.

A spokesperson for GCHQ said in a statement: "We completely reject the assertions made in the press release from Amnesty International and others, which do not reflect the judgments of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

"The IPT was clear in its December judgment that the legal regime is lawful, and that GCHQ does not seek to carry out mass surveillance. The government will be vigorously defending this case at the European Court of Human Rights."

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