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Privacy international has challenged the government of the UK over the GCHQ’s hacking operations. Privacy International contends that those hacking operations are illegal under the Computer  Misuse Act(CMA) and also violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR), which guarantees a right to privacy. A new law passed by the British parliament may complicate this case by granting special exemptions to the GCHQ.

In a post from last year, Privacy International laid out its case against the GCHQ. In light of the Snowden leaks, it was revealed that the GCHQ, often in cooperation with the NSA, were intruding on the privacy of individuals by hacking their computers and mobile devices to gain access to private information without permission. These activities would normally be in violation of the CMA, however the GCHQ are likely using the Intelligence Services Act(ISA) as the legal basis for these actions. Under the ISA, any act of surveillance or intrusion into personal property is legal as long as it is approved by the Secretary of State. Essentially, it gives one man the authority to approve all manner of privacy violations.

This is where Article 8 of the ECHR comes in. It prohibits privacy intrusions, like those performed by the GCHQ, unless they are “prescribed by law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. In order to meet the ECHR’s criteria for being prescribed by law, the law must clearly limit the scope of such privacy intrusions. For example, what types of crimes might lead to these privacy intrusions would be one of the many details that needs to be explicitly laid out in the law in order to satisfy the ECHR. A law which gives one person authority to approve any and all privacy intrusions isn’t good enough. On this legal basis, Privacy International filed a complaint with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to challenge the GCHQ’s hacking activities.

In an attempt to bring its actions into accordance with the ECHR, the government introduced a bill, soon after Privacy International filed its complaint, that would amend the CMA to grant special exemptions to the GCHQ to intrude on personal privacy. There was no public debate on the bill. It was passed into law in March of this year, and went into effect earlier this month.

The passing of this bill will have serious implications on Privacy International’s case against the GCHQ. Perhaps most infuriating is the fact that the government kept quiet about the amendments to CMA and their implications until a day before the case went to court. The case is to be heard based on hypothetical facts, as the government refuses to confirm or deny that any hacking activities took place. With this new law in place, it will be tough to prove that the actions are even hypothetically illegal.

Is this a sneaky underhanded move by the British government or is it totally legit? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Matthew Dolby

    God Save the Queen.

  • Typical

    This is why I love when Brits say things like: “You yanks, and your guns, we have just as much freedoms as you without those murder death machines in our midst” Really, do tell, when you get mad enough, you can write a lot of letters. That is if you’re still allowed. At least we can have the fantasy of another revolution.

  • PossiblyCthulhu

    Oh this will be the thin end of the wedge unfortunately for the UK Tory government – reintroduction of the Snooper’s Charter and actual withdrawal from the ECHR, alongside a promise prior to the recent election to scrap the Human Rights Act.

    Yes, you Americans have a right to bear arms, we’ll be lucky if we end up with enough rights to raise hands in protest.

  • Turt

    Gee this really sucks.
    I feel bad for them.

  • Typical

    Don’t worry, we’re kept placid with bread and circuses anyway. Most Americans are too stupid to realize when our rights are being taken, instead cheering their loss to keep us “safe”. Case in point: Border patrol lets people pour into the country with minimal interdiction, but set up lots of checkpoints 50-100 miles into the country to harass citizens under flimsy pretense of checking citizenship, while violating 4th, 5th , and 1st amendment rights. But you get the “No gummint meddling” republitards being remarkably ok with this because “it stops drug traffic” ad “keeps us safe”.

  • So, basically, the ECHR’s “protection” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Oh, so the “prescription by law” must meet certain criteria… which have been met. Well, that was a great help. Thanks for that, Tony.

    Edit: I’ve been looking a bit deeper into this. In fact, the security services were already exempt from much of the 1990 Computer Misuse Act; what wasn’t covered was the introduction of backdoors and the distribution of, effectively, rootkits. That “oversight” has now been “fixed”.

    Now that doesn’t make it any better. In fact, it really makes this measure worse, because it’s clear that in 1990, the government understood that occasionally hacking suspected criminals’ computers might sometimes be necessary, but it shouldn’t be easy, still less routine. That attitude seems to have changed. And it’s doubly worrying that the “clarification” is retroactive.

  • PossiblyCthulhu

    Strange, isn’t it? More erosion of civil liberties and freedoms are being instituted under the auspices of keeping people ‘safe’ than we would ever think.

  • Typical

    THe funniest part is, I remember learning about Ben Franklin in elementary school, and his liberty and security quote, but it’s like people just don’t care. Critical thinking must be a lost art. People say I’m too negative all the time, but the truth is, I try to see how the worst outcomes of a given situation are to better understand it.

  • Audie Bakerson

    I’m sure this will stop them from being the most violent country in Europe…

  • Typical

    If that photo collage doesn’t completely define “out of touch government fools”….

  • Übermensch

    The lack of guns has nothing to do with this. Your country is doing pretty much the same things, and the UK and US work hand-in-hand, so if there’s a job too dodgy for one, the other can do it. As far as I’m aware, the UK doesn’t have dark prisons holding innocent citizens in major cities, doesn’t have a police force that basically kill who they want, and doesn’t have more than two parties available at elections, both of whom are in favour of these dystopian actions.

  • Übermensch

    She’s going to get blown up at the VJ parade.

  • Typical

    Yeah, I don’t know how the British parliament works, except that one house is comprised of people who switched from sheep to incest first and the other is common?

    Again, we at least are able to maintain the fantasy of a revolution, in all honesty, the fatties will give themselves heart attacks running to their bunkers, but it’s still fun to watch them on preppers.

    The US doesn’t prosecute people for making mean tweets either like the UK. I’m not sure where these dark prisons holding innocent citizens are either, the ones I’ve seen have cable TV, nice gyms, and everything, I’d prefer dark prisons, because being in jail is you know, punishment. Not sure about the police killing whom they want either, but it’s amazing how it seems that every time there’s one of those stories, the “poor innocent’s” story gets shot full of more holes than their bodies were, and even still, I’m not a fan of the police, but at least ours have the power to do more than say stop please?!!.

    No government is good, but at least mine doesn’t decide I can’t be trusted with guns or knives because they’re too stupid to realize that criminals don’t care what you make illegal.