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Commentary & analysis

Leading lawyers tell UK MPs that GCHQ spying is breaking the law

UK MPs have been told that, not only is the legal regime governing GCHQ likely to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, many of the agency’s activities are illegal even by current domestic standards.

Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston were asked to prepare the opinion for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones. While APPGs have no formal powers within the UK political system some – like the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition – have done important investigatory work in areas where formal oversight has been lacking.

While legislative proposals based on this opinion have already been tabled, its primary importance is likely to be its foreshadowing of issues the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) could adjudicate on this year in the case Big Brother Watch v United Kingdom. In the past, the Strasbourg court has played a decisive role in forcing changes to UK surveillance practices and it has never before been asked to consider the legality of mass surveillance.

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Increasing number of US voices call for an end to domestic metadata collection

In the wake of the publication of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) report into the NSA’s collection of domestic phone metadata, a number of voices in the US have echoed the Board’s findings that collection is neither effective nor legal. In the past 48 hours, both the New York Times and the LA Times have published editorials calling for bulk collection to be ended – and even the Republican National Convention has called for an immediate end to “unconstitutional surveillance” and a full investigation into the NSA’s activities.

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Obama promises minor changes to NSA operations

On Friday 17 January, US President Barack Obama made his long awaited speech on US signals intelligence. The speech came a month after the publication of a report by the Review Group he appointed to look into the issue. At the end of last year, Edward Snowden gave his reaction to the Review Group report in an interview with Fantástico:

“Remember that the advisory group was composed of a hand picked group. Their job wasn’t to protect privacy or to deter abuses, it was to “restore public confidence” in these spying activities. Many of the recommendations they made are cosmetic changes: things that look good but change little.”

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EU Inquiry into Electronic Mass Surveillance draws its conclusions

For the past five months the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has been conducting an investigation into electronic mass surveillance of, and conducted by, EU member states. This inquiry, prompted directly by Edward Snowden’s revelations, held the first of its fifteen hearings on 5 September 2013 and is now making amendments to the draft report prepared by Inquiry rapporteur, MEP Claude Moraes.

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