PRESSURE GROUP PRIVACY INTERNATIONAL has published a court document that it claims reveals government support for broad and alarming GCHQ surveillance powers.
Privacy International, and others, have challenged the government on its use of surveillance technology, and the government has stoutly defended its actions on each occasion.
Now Privacy International has published a court document relating to two court cases initiated last year against GCHQ that challenge what Privacy International claims is invasive state-sponsored hacking that was revealed by Edward Snowden.
In the document, called an Open Response, the government outlines the broad authority it has given UK intelligence services to infiltrate personal devices, the internet, and social media websites.
In addition, government lawyers claim that while the intelligence services require authorisation before they are allowed to hack into the computer and mobile phones of "intelligence targets", GCHQ is equally permitted to break into computers anywhere in the world, even if they are not connected to a crime or a threat to national security.
"The British government has admitted its intelligence services have the broad power to hack into personal phones, computers, and communications networks, and claims they are legally justified to hack anyone, anywhere in the world, even if the target is not a threat to national security nor suspected of any crime," said Privacy International.
"In the document, the government outlines its broad authority to infiltrate personal devices and the networks we use everyday."
The juiciest information is, of course, buried in the document.
"Buried deep within the document, government lawyers claim GCHQ is permitted to break into computers anywhere in the world," it added.
"Such powers are a massive invasion of privacy. Hacking is the modern equivalent of entering someone's house, searching through her filing cabinets, diaries and correspondence, and planting devices to permit constant surveillance in future."
GCHQ has responded by publishing the Open Response in question with a statement that legitimises its actions.
"The Open Response makes clear that any conduct of the sort alleged must be authorised by a Secretary of State and is subject to strict tests of necessity, proportionality and legitimate aim," it explained.
"A statutory code of practice sets out the procedures that must be followed before any conduct of this nature can take place, and on the processing, retention, destruction and disclosure of any information so obtained. The Intelligence Services Commissioner continues to provide robust oversight of GCHQ's activities."
Privacy International, and the other groups that sided with it in its cases against GCHQ, including Riseup (US), GreenNet (UK), Greenhost (Netherlands), Mango (Zimbabwe), Jinbonet (Korea), May First/People Link (US), and the Chaos Computer Club (Germany), will not take much comfort from this, and its deputy director used the opportunity to push for a reform of surveillance regulation and legislation.
"The government has been deep in the hacking business for nearly a decade, yet they have never once been held accountable for their actions. They have granted themselves incredible powers to break into the devices we hold near and dear, the phones and computers that are so integral to our lives," said Eric King.
"What's worse is that without any legitimate legal justification, they think they have the authority to target anyone they wish, no matter if they are suspected of a crime. This suspicionless hacking must come to an end and the activities of our intelligence agencies must be brought under the rule of law." µ
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