A COURT HAS RULED THAT AN UNDER-THE-COUNTER information sharing pact between the US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ was unlawful.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) found that surveillance and sharing carried out before December 2014 under PRISM or Upstream arrangements was unlawful for human rights and transparency reasons, but that GCHQ is acting lawfully now (PDF).
Two paragraphs that settle it have been released, the IPT said, adding that this final disclosure makes the agency "sufficiently accessible".
The decision has won golf clap applause but some concern from the same interested parties, which suggested that there is more to come from the case.
The Open Rights Group (ORG) said that it is not clear whether surveillance and sharing that happened later than the date could still be problematic, regardless of the IPT's findings.
"This ruling is a very welcome first step. It shows that secret police are not an acceptable basis for highly intrusive intelligence sharing practices. However, the IPT has not gone far enough," said Elizabeth Knight, legal director at ORG, who hopes that a higher power will come in harder.
"These flimsy policies are not enough to comply with the requirements of human rights law, even now they are public," she added.
"And GCHQ's own Tempora programme of mass interception is unlawful and disproportionate. We hope the European Court of Human Rights will go further than the IPT and find that mass surveillance breaches our human right to privacy."
Privacy International, which forced the IPT to consider this alongside the ORG, Bytes for All, Liberty and Amnesty International, is equally sceptical and equally hopeful of a better result in Europe.
"For far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and the NSA have acted like they are above the law," said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International.
"Today's decision confirms to the public what many have said all along. Over the past decade, GCHQ and the NSA have been engaged in an illegal mass surveillance sharing programme that has affected millions of people around the world.
"The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by government. We hope that the European Court decides to rule in favour of privacy rather than unchecked state power."
GCHQ, meanwhile, is happy with the result, and remembered to express the opinion that it cannot really be expected to carry out its work if it has to do it while in the glare of the public eye.
"We are pleased that the court has once again ruled that the UK's bulk interception regime is fully lawful. It follows the court's clear rejection of accusations of ‘mass surveillance' in its December judgement," said a GCHQ spokesperson.
"Today's IPT ruling reaffirms that the processes and safeguards within the intelligence-sharing regime were fully adequate at all times.
"It is simply about the amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain. By its nature, much of GCHQ's work must remain secret." µ
Oh and it'll also help give aural pleasure
But it might still not be enough to make virtual reality super appealing
And a ridiculous competition
Now you can talk to your silly-looking earbuds too