In Brief

UK court examines GCHQ’s bulk hack of phones and laptops

Judges examine MI5 and MI6 spying tactics exposed by Edward Snowden

GCHQ’s bulk hacking of smartphones and computers in the UK is at the centre of a Court of Appeal case starting today that pits privacy advocates against the UK’s most secretive court, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

Privacy International’s legal fight is linked to a data leak by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who exposed widespread surveillance by the US National Security Agency and the UK’s GCHQ, The Guardian says. 

The privacy group is challenging a ruling by the IPT that allows MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - the Government’s listening post in Cheltenham - to spy on hundreds of thousands of Britons using one, sweeping warrant. The “thematic warrants” allow UK security services to hack, for example, “the computers of everyone who has travelled to the Middle East, or the entire population of Birmingham”, reports Computer Weekly.

The appeals court is to rule on two matters: whether the UK’s bulk surveillance practice is a breach of privacy under European law; and whether civil courts have primacy over an intelligence tribunal that operates partly in secret.

The legal battle has been going on for years. Privacy International and seven internet service providers initiated court proceedings in 2014 before the IPT, arguing that the mass UK hacks are a breach of the human rights to privacy and freedom of speech. But the UK Tribunal ruled that the hacking warrants “need not be defined by reference to named or identified individuals”.

Privacy International then launched a judicial review of the tribunal’s decision in the High Court, but lost - leading to today’s appeal.

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