Switzerland’s Attorney General has raised the possibility that Edward Snowden could testify about NSA surveillance in Switzerland – and apply for asylum there – without fear of onward extradition to the United States.
The written legal opinion, seen by Swiss newspapers le Matin Dimanche and Sonntags Zeitung, states there is no legal impediment to Mr Snowden being granted Swiss asylum but leaves open the possibility of “higher state obligations” taking priority. While those “higher state obligations” are left undefined, this is – on the face of it – a rather more positive response than inquiries seeking Mr Snowden’s participation in person have received elsewhere.
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.