HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP Privacy International has filed a formal complaint with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the UK that raises questions about the roles of internet service providers (ISPs) in GCHQ surveillance.
Privacy International is challenging ISPs BT and Vodafone and other companies in the telecommunications industry, including Viatel, Verizon and Level 3.
It has also tried to take the UK government in front of a legal tribunal (PDF) to ascertain whether it has acted outside the law, and has filed a claim with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).
"According to recent reports, BT, Verizon Enterprise, Vodafone Cable, Viatel, Level 3, and Interoute granted access to their fibre optic networks for the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) surveillance program, Tempora," it said in its latest challenge.
"As a result, Privacy International believes that there are grounds to investigate whether up to a dozen OECD guidelines, pertaining to companies' responsibilities to respect human rights, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression, were violated."
Privacy International wants telecoms companies to answer a series of questions about how and when they share information with GCHQ and law enforcement authorities. It also has some demands, including the cessation of "voluntary compliance with GCHQ".
BT told us that whatever happens, it will always comply with the rule of law. "We shall study details of any complaint we receive, but we are clear that matters of national security are for governments, not telecommunications providers," it said in a statement. "As a company, we comply with the law."
Interoute declined to comment. We are waiting for responses from the other firms mentioned.
"It is unconscionable to think that the companies that carry our most personal information either refuse to stand up for us, or remain silent when our rights are violated. Far from being coerced, it appears some of the companies have gone well beyond their legal responsibility by colluding with GCHQ on its Tempora program," said Privacy International head of Research Eric King.
"We call on these companies to do the right thing and halt their involvement with mass surveillance and hope the OECD will investigate what steps, if any, the companies took to defend the human rights of their customers." µ