Surveillance Protesters Picket GCHQ

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Britain’s top secret eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, faces a weekend of protests by privacy campaigners

The security cameras surrounding the Government Communications Headquarters, more commonly known as GCHQ, had a busy Friday with a small group of online activists staging a low-key protest outside.

GCHQ Protest

The small number of protesters on Friday were reportedly outnumbered by the police and members of the media, according to the BBC. There was minor disruption at the Cheltenham site on Friday morning, as GCHQ staff were driven by bus into the site itself, instead of the usual practice of being dropped off outside.

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireA much larger protest by the ‘We Are Anonymous’ group at the Cheltenham site is expected to take place over the weekend.

The protest is in support of a legal challenge by civil liberty groups, including Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. The groups are mounting a legal challenge against the alleged use of mass surveillance by intelligence services.

It comes amid ongoing protests and global repercussions following the spying revelations from the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. The NSA PRISM programme allegedly conducts wide spread surveillance, and even has access to the web servers belonging to tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

In the UK, GCHQ is alleged to be behind the Tempora programme – the British intelligence operation that collects information from tapped fibre lines.

IPT Challenge

Last summer the privacy groups mounted their legal challenge with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which monitors whether the UK’s spying laws are being observed. A legal challenge is also being mounted in European Court of Human Rights.

The privacy campaigners are asking the IPT to find out whether intelligence bodies used either Tempora or PRISM to access data and bypass laws prohibiting them from getting their hands on people’s private information.

Last month, seven Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from around the world also filed a legal complaint against GCHQ, accusing the British intelligence agency of exploiting their infrastructure and violating the privacy of their customers.

In June, the government admitted it had intercepted British citizens’ Facebook, Google and Twitter data by using separate laws that apply to communications stored on servers which are located abroad.

Shhh! Don’t look at our whistleblowers quiz!