What to Know: GCHQ On Trial

News & Analysis
What to Know: GCHQ On Trial

From Monday 14 to Friday 18 July, the British intelligence agencies and the Ministers responsible for them will be under the spotlight in an historic case to determine whether GCHQ's mass communications surveillance activities are a violation of Britain's human rights obligations.

Privacy International, along with Amnesty International, Liberty, the American Civil Liberties Union, Pakistani organisation Bytes for All and others, have brought the case before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) to challenge the UK government’s insistence that alleged operations involving bulk interception, collection, analysis and use of people’s communications, and related intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US, are lawful.

Despite the widely published revelations by Edward Snowden about the scope of UK and US surveillance practices, the UK government persists in refusing to 'neither confirm nor deny’ the existence of a programme at the heart of these claims - Tempora. As such, the hearing will with the Tribunal seeking to determine, on the basis of agreed hypothetical facts, the following issues:

  • If the ‘Tempora’ mass communications surveillance programme exists, whether it violates the rights to privacy and freedom of expression enshrined in Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and
  • If the UK government has access to intelligence collected by the US under its PRISM and UPSTREAM programmes, whether that violates Arts 8 and 10 ECHR. 

The case will also put under the spotlight the mechaisms that oversee the British intelligence agencies, including the IPT itself.

It is the first time that these UK government agencies, including GCHQ, have appeared in a public hearing to answer direct allegations and state their position on the mass surveillance operations as a whole, since the Snowden revelations.

The IPT was established 14 years ago to hear allegations that the UK intelligence agencies have breached legal rights. Almost all its hearings are held in secret. Much of this hearing will be public.

Below you will find more background information about the hearing, including information for the media, relevant documents and filings for the case, and what Privacy International has been doing about GCHQ's mass surveillance.

For the media:

Joint release from Privacy International and Amnesty International: 
UK Rushes through invasive surveillance laws as intelligence agencies go on trial

WHAT: Historic case to determine whether mass data surveillance operations by the UK are lawful.
WHEN: Monday to Friday 14- 18 July 2014
WHERE: Court 19, Investigatory Powers Tribunal, Rolls Building, Fetter Lane, EC4A 1NL