European Court invites the UK Government to explain the legality of GCHQ mass surveillance
The law is a slow and laborious process, not to be attempted by the faint of heart nor weak of pocket. Back in October, having exhausted UK attempts at challenging GCHQ’s mass surveillance and cooperation with the NSA, Big Brother Watch, English PEN, The Open Rights Group and Dr Constanze Kurz lodged a complaint against the UK government with the European Court of Human Rights.
Morally it is a very simple issue: GCHQ (and thereby the UK government) has no right to engage in mass surveillance of telecommunications (the GCHQ Tempora programme), nor share that information with, nor receive surveillance intercepts from, the NSA. Legally it is far more complex.
Three months later, this complaint has passed its first hurdle: the European Court has not rejected the complaint and has moved to the next stage: it has invited the UK government to explain why it should reject it.
A letter to the complainants was sent by the European Court dated 9 January. It provides procedural information, notes that the court decided “to give priority to the application”, and says:
The Government have been requested to submit their observations by 2 May 2014. These will be sent to you in order that you may submit written observations in reply on behalf of the applicants, together with any claim for just satisfaction under Article 41 (cf. Rule 60)…
The Government have been requested to deal with the questions set out in the document appended to this letter…
That appended document provides an excellent overview of the issues at stake, from the complex legal rather than simple moral standpoint. It is well worth reading if you have any interest in or concern over (which we all should) the UK and US mass surveillance of innocent citizens.
It is an important first hurdle. It will take many months to be settled, even if it ever is. But it also, perhaps, throws extra light on the UK government’s increasingly bellicose attitude towards Europe, threatening to revoke the Human Rights Act and even withdraw from the European Union if it doesn’t succeed in renegotiating membership terms to its own liking.