For seventeen years, British spies at the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, participated in a bulk data collection program, some of that in partnership with the NSA as part of PRISM, the enormous data gathering operation outed by Edward Snowden. This was in direct violation of the law, specifically Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This has been found illegal, and the UK has issued a very sincere public apology. It also hasn’t stopped hoovering up every scrap of data it can find, which it argues is legal now because everybody knows what’s going on.
This ruling expands on a 2015 ruling that the UK had violated the law for seven years. More digging found that the British program actually extended back to 1998, so they were actually up to these shenanigans before the US decided it needed to hear every phone call made within its borders for no reason other than “terrorism,” thanks to the Patriot Act. But all that old stuff is illegal. The new snooping the UK is doing now is totally legal!
The UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal, or IPT, has ruled that as long as the UK tells its citizens they are totally going to collect and riffle through their digital lives, then as far as the government is concerned, it’s legal. Specifically, according to The Guardian, the IPT ruled that it was illegal not because the government was just collecting everything because it felt like it, but because the government didn’t properly explain the safeguards it would take while it collected everything it felt like. Now that the public knows that, it’s no big deal. Parliament is even going to tell the GCHQ very sternly to not misuse the data, which will surely solve all the problems that having a giant pile of everybody’s dirty laundry sitting on a server might cause.
Needless to say, some UK privacy and advocacy groups think this is mildly disingenuous and will be pushing for further rights. Not the least of which is the fact that if the NSA’s behavior is any guide, those “safeguards” aren’t worth much. Besides, do we really want to spend billions of taxpayer dollars archiving every Minions meme and political argument on Facebook? There aren’t any teacher salaries, or museums, or homeless people we could spend that money on?