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Amnesty fights on as GCHQ snooping deemed ‘lawful’

Amnesty International vowed yesterday to take its fight against British spooks to Europe’s court of human rights after their blanket surveillance techniques were deemed lawful.

Human rights groups Amnesty, Liberty and Privacy International brought a joint legal challenge against GCHQ following the revelations of US whistleblower Edward Snowden about mass electronic surveillance programmes Prism and Tempora.

They argued that GCHQ’s methods breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy, as well as Article 10, which protects freedom of expression.

However in a written judgment yesterday a panel of judges on the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) said: “We have been able to satisfy ourselves that as of today there is no contravention of Articles 8 and 10 by reference to those systems.”

Judges said they were satisfied that, despite the fast development of surveillance technology, the law provided adequate restraints on the intelligence services.

“Technology in the surveillance field appears to be advancing at breakneck speed.

“This has given rise to submissions that the UK legislation has failed to keep abreast of the consequences of these advances and is ill-fitted to do so; and that in any event Parliament has failed to provide safeguards adequate to meet the developments.

“All this inevitably creates considerable tension between the competing interests and the Snowden revelations in particular have led to the impression voiced in some quarters that the law permits the intelligence services carte blanche to do what they will.

“We are satisfied that this is not the case.”

The majority of IPT hearings are held behind closed doors. No complaint against the intelligence services has ever been upheld.

Amnesty’s legal adviser Rachel Logan accused the government of “retreating into closed hearings” over the case.

“The government’s entire defence has amounted to ‘trust us’ and now the tribunal has said the same,” Ms Logan said.

“Since we only know about the scale of such surveillance thanks to Snowden, and given that ‘national security’ has been recklessly bandied around, ‘trust us’ isn’t enough.

“We will now appeal to Strasbourg, who might not be as inclined to put their trust in the UK government given what we know so far.”

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