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Surveillance by GCHQ : What do you say now, Mr Cameron?

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NSA funds part of GCHQ’s budget

Snowden’s documents have also revealed that GCHQ’s white-collar computer burglars targeted and attacked the computers of the major Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom’s administrators, the aim being to gain control of the critical network infrastructure. Such aggressive attacks on a friendly country are unprecedented – up to now at least, because we will certainly be looking even deeper into the abysses of the intelligence services’ actions in the course of 2014.

It has become clear from many other Snowden documents that the NSA and GCHQ work together so closely that they operate de facto as one unit. In this context the British spies are subject to even fewer restrictions and controls than their American partners, and there has been little in the way of public debate to which they have been forced to respond. The financially potent NSA even funds part of GCHQ’s budget – so appreciative are the Americans of the intensive cooperation of the most important Five Eyes partner and of the geostrategic advantages offered by the British Isles’ position – where most Atlantic submarine cables land.

The blanket surveillance affects every European

Anyone who tries to challenge the GCHQ’s unbridled snooping through the courts in the UK will discover that there is no adequate legal recourse. The only possibility is to make a complaint to a control commission (the Investigatory Powers Tribunal), which makes its decisions in secret without recourse to ordinary courts of law. It is also virtually impossible to mount a legal challenge to its verdicts.

However, as a member of the EU the United Kingdom is subject to the jurisdiction of the European Courts, having ratified the European Convention on Human Rights as early as the 1950s. This is why the author of this column – together with the British organizations Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and the writers’ association PEN – appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in September of last year, because the blanket surveillance of internet traffic by GCHQ affects every European’s „right to respect for private and family life“ under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is now the task of the judges in Strasbourg

The judges of the ECtHR have now recognized the sensitivity of the issue. They have approached the British government and asked for a statement. They are emphasizing the urgency of the matter and giving the case high priority, which is why the British Government has only been given a short period of time in which to justify GCHQ’s practices and the monitoring systems.

It is now the task of the judges in Strasbourg to protect the citizens’ right to privacy in the face of persistent and massive spying by European intelligence agencies, and to implement the European Convention on Human Rights in practice. The fact that the court has recognized our complaint as sufficiently urgent and important for the future of effective human rights protection in the digital age – and that the judges regard the control of the intelligence services as a priority – has refocused attention on the really essential issue: European Human Rights. The hype surrounding Obama’s interview and his reassuring words had pushed human rights out of the limelight. David Cameron now has to answer the questions.

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