03/10/2013 13:01 BST

Big Brother Watch, English PEN Takes UK Spies To European Court Over Prism Internet Surveillance

File photo dated 17/01/04 of GCHQ Headquarters as Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency mounted an intensive spying operation on foreign politicians attending two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009, it has been reported.

The UK's most vociferous privacy campaigners have slammed the British justice system as not fit for purpose, in dealing with damning allegations about internet surveillance, and will take the UK government straight to Strasbourg.

The legal challenge comes after the revelations by American whistleblower Edward Snowden that UK spooks collected more than 21 petabytes of data a day - equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours.

Robert Sharp, at English PEN, one of the groups mounting the challenge, told HuffPost UK top QCs were acting for them pro bono, but the activists also hope to raise £20,000 to fund the case against the UK's GCHQ at the European Court of Human Rights.

"Many people have wanted to challenge this in the UK, but were told they could only go to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which acts in secret to deal with sensitive information relating to national security.

"Our only recourse is to go straight to the European Court of Human Rights."

Daniel Carey, solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, who are representing the campaigners, said this was "precisely the sort of case that we need the European Court of Human Rights for.”

He said: "We are asking for the case to be dealt with on a priority basis, so I am hopeful that it will be formally communicated to the UK Government within a period of weeks. After that, the timetable will be determined by the court.”

English PEN, along with Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and German internet activist Constanze Kurz, allege that by collecting vast amounts of data leaving or entering the UK, including the content of emails and social media messages, the UK’s spy agency has acted illegally.


It is believed that this is the first complaint to be made to an international court relating to the Prism and Tempora programmes - which scandalised the world when the extent of government spying was revealed earlier this year.

“The laws governing how internet data is accessed were written when barely anyone had broadband access and were intended to cover old fashioned copper telephone lines.

"Parliament did not envisage or intend those laws to permit scooping up details of every communication we send, including content, so it’s absolutely right that GCHQ is held accountable in the courts for its actions,” said Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.