This undated GCHQ presentation includes, in its speakers notes, the statements that “We have a light oversight regime compared to [the] US” and “judicial oversight… [is] the main issue for us”: see the Intercept article Profiled: From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online Identities, 25 September 2015.
Since the first reporting on documents disclosed by Edward Snowden in June 2013, a number of legal challenges to GCHQ’s surveillance practices have been initiated in the UK. Today, in response to one of those applications, from Liberty and several other organisations, the court that oversees the GCHQ ruled against the UK intelligence services for the first time in its controversial 15 year history.
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.