One of the worst things about all the information released by Edward Snowden that detailed how US and British security service – along with Canadian, Australian and New Zealand allies – have been listening in on the internet is how powerless it makes you feel.
After all, governments have collectively shrugged and – in the UK at least – passed laws which make much of the illicit behaviour illegal. Worse, while big tech firms have been proactive in introducing new security measures such as encryption to protect your right to privacy from state-sponsored snoopers, the same security services are crying foul play and insisting on back doors.
What can you do? If you’re a big NGO like Privacy International (PI), you can request that the UK’s security services reveal all of the data it holds about you that might have been gathered in a seven year internet trawl that was recently declared illegal by British courts.
Because of that ruling, PI says that anyone should be able to request the details of what data was collected about them illegally, and apply for it to be removed from any government database.
It’s just launched a new campaign, Did GCHQ Spy On You?, which encourages anyone, anywhere, to sign up and request data from the British spook centre, GCHQ. And it’s really easy to do so.
Why not give the tool a go and see how long it takes for the spy services to get back to you here.
The full text of PI’s press release is below. Obviously if any South Africans (or other Africans) find out their details are on GCHQ databases, we’d love to know.
Privacy International today has launched a platform and campaign to allow anyone in the world to request whether Britain’s intelligence agency GCHQ has illegally spied on them.
The platform and campaign has been developed in response to a recent court ruling that GCHQ unlawfully obtained millions of private communications from the NSA up until December 2014. This decision allows not only British citizens, but anyone in the world, to ask GCHQ if the individual’s records were unlawfully shared by the NSA.
Individuals who wish to take part in this process can sign up here: https://www.privacyinternational.org/illegalspying.
Privacy International intends to collate the inquires from around the world and submit them to the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Those who have been found to have been illegally spied on can seek the deletion of their records, including emails, phone records, and internet communications. Given the mass surveillance capabilities of the NSA and GCHQ, and that the agencies “share by default” the information they collect, an unlimited number of people could have been affected by the unlawful spying.
The IPT, the UK court solely responsible for overseeing intelligence agencies, on 6 February declared that intelligence sharing between the United States and the United Kingdom was unlawful prior to December 2014, because the rules governing the UK’s access to the NSA’s PRISM and UPSTREAM programmes were secret. It was only due to revelations made during the course of this case, which relied almost entirely on documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, that the intelligence sharing relationship became subject to public scrutiny.
The decision was the first time in the Tribunal’s history that it had ruled against the actions of the intelligence and security services.
Eric King, Deputy Director of Privacy International, said:
“We have known for some time that the NSA and GCHQ have been engaged in mass surveillance, but never before could anyone explicitly find out if their phone calls, emails, or location histories were unlawfully shared between the the US and UK. The public have a right to know if they were illegally spied on, and GCHQ must come clean on whose records they hold that they should never have had in the first place.
There are few chances that people have to directly challenge the seemingly unrestrained surveillance state, but individuals now have a historic opportunity finally hold GCHQ accountable for their unlawful actions.”
[Main image – The UK’s GCHQ spy headquarters, Ministry of Defence]