back to article Snowden leaks LEGALISED GCHQ's 'illegal' dragnet spying, rules British tribunal

Revelations in documents leaked by former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden accidentally made British spies' data-sharing relationship with the US NSA lawful by making the secret relationship public, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled today. GCHQ judgment: Liberty v the Foreign and Commonwealth Office In a bizarre twist of …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Illegal

    "...the secret policy breached Article 8, the right to a private life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression without State interference,..."

    And the punishment will be....NOTHING!

    1. elDog

      Re: Illegal

      Sure there's a punishment.

      Punish Snowden, punish Assange, punish any whistleblower or reporter who lets these truths out into the open air.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Illegal

      Articles 8 and 10 of which act, exactly?

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    WTF?

    Hang on...

    - If the government spy on all my communications without telling me, that's illegal.

    - If the government says we're going to spy on everyone's communications, that's legal.

    I'm not sure how this squares with the right to privacy.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Hang on...

      To understand recursion, first you must understand recursion.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Hang on...

      Go read Catch-22. All will be revealed once you understand that mentality.

    3. Sarah Balfour

      Re: Hang on...

      All Your Data Are Belong To Us

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Unlike Scribd this link doesn't require a login: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/liberty-v-fco.pdf

  4. frank ly

    The ruling 'against' them ....

    .... says that it's now ok to carry on doing what they have been doing. Foam rubber dentures!

  5. oddie

    soo.. illegal things are ok as long s they were done in the past?

    I must remember that one if I ever commit a crime and go up before a judge..

    "Solicitor, could you please inform the judge that I did sell several tonns of substance_x/speeding/wanton murder* before december 2014, but since I was arrested I have no longer been commiting any crime(s) and everything should therefore now be fine.. and I should be released at once, yes? :)"

    It is worth pointing out that these are only hypothetical examples, and I have in fact never done any of these things, you know, in case there is now some sort of (now legal) dragnet operation in place on these forums...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: soo.. illegal things are ok as long s they were done in the past?

      No, no, no - you've got it all wrong...

      It was only illegal because you didn't tell anyone. Now all you have to do is say "I'm going to rob a bank" and it's perfectly fine...

      1. CommanderGalaxian
        WTF?

        Re: soo.. illegal things are ok as long s they were done in the past?

        No, no, no....not that either - it is because a third party told on you and thus it became known what you had done, that things went from illegal to legal (and henceforth for ever more).

        Previously I had thought that sort of thing (witness evidence) formed an excellent basis for prosecution - but apparently I was mistaken.

        Fascinating really when you think about - if you rob a bank, then just as long as nobody knows it was you, then you are a criminal, but as soon as somebody grasses you up, that act of grassing by a third party automatically causes you to become innocent!

        Superb!

        1. Tom 13
          FAIL

          Re: it is because a third party told on you

          The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by Government to release previously secret 'arrangements'.

          You'll note that this quote is from one of your advocates. It clearly states that had the government NOT undertaken the clean-up effort, it would still be illegal. So it wasn't the third party that made it legal it was the government.

          Yes, it was all after the fact. And it can be criticized, but if you don't keep your facts straight, they're going to tear you up. I might join them when they do.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: soo.. illegal things are ok as long s they were done in the past?

          "No, no, no....not that either - it is because a third party told on you and thus it became known what you had done, that things went from illegal to legal (and henceforth for ever more)."

          That's the way elReg wrote it up. But as far as I can follow from a quick look at the judgement the disclosure to which the judges refer was one made by the Foreign Office, not Ed Snowden's.

  6. theOtherJT

    Sounds like the tribunal was told what it was allowed to say to me.

    "Ok, you can assert that a law was broken, as long as that doesn't mean we have to stop breaking it. Find some way to make the status quo legal, ok?"

    How about, "It was only illegal as long as you didn't tell anyone?"

    "Yup, I reckon that'll fly. Ok, you can release your report now."

  7. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Can none of you appreciate the irony? In the absence of a terrorist, GCHQ would have been classified as terrorists - provided we could've shown they were terrorists. Which we couldn't. But because of a terrorist, we can now show they are terrorists so they're not in fact terrorists. Or something like that.

    1. Simon Harris

      @Brewster's Angle Grinder

      Your name is Sir Humphrey Appleby, and I claim my five pounds.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Simon Harris

        "Your name is Sir Humphrey Appleby, and I claim my five pounds."

        Wrong, he's really Sir Michael Chilcot. I'll take the fiver, please.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I predict...

    Is there also a clause that states that only an insane person would think someone was spying on them?

    If you think someone is spying on you, the government has a nice padded cell for you to think it over in. At least it's nice until the next round of budget cuts.

    If you think you aren't being spied on, then everything is good, nothing to see here, move on now....

  9. poopypants

    Well that's some spooky quantum shit right there. Schrödinger's espionage. As long as you don't know about it, it's neither legal nor illegal. As soon as it becomes public knowledge, a determination is made, and it becomes one or the other.

    1. CapiD

      "As soon as it becomes public knowledge, a determination is made, and it becomes one or the other."

      or it becomes both.

    2. Mephistro
      Flame

      @ poopypants

      " As soon as it becomes public knowledge, a determination is made, and it becomes one or the other"

      So, following some interpretations of quantum mechanics, there is another universe where they took the other way and justice was served, and the citizens weren't treated like sheep . And, further down the line, there is another universe where the perpetrators receive more than a slap in the wrist.

      1. DropBear
        Trollface

        Re: @ poopypants

        "So, following some interpretations of quantum mechanics, there is another universe"

        The way it looks from here you're insinuating we happen to live in the worst of all those universes. Unless of course you're the sort of optimist who answers "this can't get any worse" with "sure it can, just wait and see!"

    3. elDog

      I'm only chiming in here

      to be considered part of the currently alive crowd. Whatever currently means in your particular place in the quanta.

      Isn't this how life/love proceeds? We never know, instant by instant, whether we're we're the cat's meow or turd.

  10. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Gotta tell me wife...

    Can beat her up legally now, as long as everyone knows about it...

    1. Otto is a bear.

      Re: Gotta tell me wife...

      Hope that was a joke, because that might be take to mean you have been.

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith

        Re: Gotta tell me wife...

        That's his point?

        What happened in the past wasn't OK, but once everyone knows, it is fine.

        Or didn't you understand the article? (Not the logic of the courts though - that's beyond the ken of non political spymasters.)

        1. Simon Harris

          Re: Gotta tell me wife...

          The point was made, an example in better taste might have been chosen though.

  11. soldinio
    Meh

    If you know we're doing it, it's ok

    There is actually legal precedent for this kind of asshat logic.

    I worked in pubs and bars for many years, when I started it was illegal to knowingly serve anybody under 18 (with a couple of exceptions with a full meal). A few years ago they removed the "knowingly" bit putting all the onus the member of bar staff. Even if you are given fake ID, you can still get fined.

    Now the police actually pick old looking 17-year-olds and send them into pubs to try and get served. The only reason this is not legally deemed entrapment, is because they write to you first and warn you they might do it. This judgement applies exactly the same principle.

  12. Captain Hogwash Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Heads, they win...

    tails, we lose.

  13. Otto is a bear.

    Your right to privacy

    If you are the subject of a lawful investigation you have no right to privacy, nor should you expect it. You do however have a right to expect that the investigators keep private any information they discover that is not pertinent to the investigation, and only make public that information used is any resultant action. The investigators have a legal duty to do that, and protect your information. You have the right to sue them if they don't, and they are also liable to prosecution under a whole raft of laws up to and including the Official Secrets Act.

    Thus, regardless of what you might think, scanning communications looking for evidence of serious wrong doing, is generally legal, disclosure to third parties, generally isn't. What the state considers serious wrong doing depends on the type of state you vote for. At a guess, maybe 0.0001% of communications between people are ever genuinely intercepted, and even fewer are actionable, the rest is never seen.

    1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

      Re: Your right to privacy

      "If you are the subject of a lawful investigation you have no right to privacy, nor should you expect it."

      The point here is that they are hoovering up communications data of everyone. Not just the subjects of lawful investigations.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Your right to privacy Captain Hogwash

        Two questions you may wish to ponder over..

        How do you think they identify the targets in the first place?

        Who defines the bar?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Your right to privacy

      If you are the subject of a lawful investigation you have no right to privacy, nor should you expect it

      Nope, that is overly broad. You still have a right to privacy, but not from duly appointed investigators who will have to serve you with a warrant that specifically states what they are looking for. If they are looking for a data crime they are normally not entitled to take along your pron stash as well as that is not germane to the investigation.

      At least, that's what it is supposed to be like. The reality is that as soon as they show up with a warrant, you are shoved aside, they take what they jolly well feel like and they will hang on to it for as long as they feel like, regardless if that destroys your legitimate life because you now no longer have access to your business records (you know, fun stuff like financials). It's a great intimidation technique against little people because few people have the resources to overcome what is in effect a denial of service attack on personal life and any independent business. Time is on their side.

      On the plus side, now you know. Act accordingly. Assume you're under surveillance and refuse to accept anything that doesn't communicate via decent encryption.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Your right to privacy

        >If they are looking for a data crime they are normally not entitled to take along your pron stash as well as that is not germane to the investigation.

        But if they accidentally found your pron stash, well, you wouldn't want that leaked to the press would you? I think you'd better do as we ask.

        What you've got no pron stash? Hmmm, hold on a moment. <clickety-click>, well, our computer here says you do and if you take another look at your temporary internet files folder, you'll find some in there.

        A problem with an intrusive government, is that it gives them too much power.

    3. Schultz Silver badge

      "At a guess, maybe 0.0001% of communications between people are ever genuinely intercepted"

      What about the fake intercepts? Should we ignore the fake intercepts?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Your right to privacy

      Otto is a fool, who doesn't seem to have the slightest knowledge of the situation at all.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Your right to privacy

        Otto is a fool, who doesn't seem to have the slightest knowledge of the situation at all.

        This is the internet, man. Scrambled eggs are expected.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Awesome. More news involving GCHQ that reads like the really dark bit near the end of Catch-22.

  15. Joseph Eoff
    WTF?

    OK, fess up ...

    What clown put the LSD in my water? Or did they give it to the clowns in the court?

    This has to be the most surreal thing I've ever heard - it was illegal as long as no one knew of it, but became legal by becoming known.

    I'm going to go take a nap and wait for the hallucinations to go away.

    Could some one please check a calender and make sure this isn't the first of April?

    1. A Ghost

      Re: OK, fess up ...

      I see I'm not the only one that has been having those WTF moments to surpass all others. They are coming thick and fast these days.

      Must be the psychological operations! The ones they haven't told us about, which are illegal. Until we find out about them and then they won't be illegal anymore.

      Before, I truly doubted the sanity of the people of the planet (in general) and politicians and civil servants in particular. But now, it is easier to think that it is just me that is mad.

      Maybe that is the whole point eh?

      Whatchagonnadoaboutituh?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: OK, fess up ...

        Take AK-103 with canned beans and grass, go inna woods.

        (But then they will Ruby Ridge you and get away with it. There really is no escape.)

  16. John P

    Am I reading this correctly?

    So when they were doing this in secret, it was illegal. But now we know they're doing it, it's totally fine.

    That does not make a lick of sense!

  17. Alistair
    Coat

    Dammit, teh kittehs have been bad.

    Bad Kittehs! Bad.

    Now come here and have some catnip.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That must have taken some sweat..

    .. to bend the interpretation of applicable laws in such a way that this could become acceptable.

    Honestly, even Tony Blair would not have managed this one, and he IS a lawyer. Hats off.

    (yes, that's sarcasm).

  19. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    Say what?

    So... if I do something illegal then people find out, that automagically legalises my actions?

    Game on, then.

    1. A Ghost
      Gimp

      Re: Say what?

      No.

      Those rules don't apply to you. You'll be banged up with your ugly mug all over the redtop dailys (you might even get a mention in el reg - "el reg reader Jimmy2Cows was found worrying a sheep last week, he tried the old 'but I told her [him?] what I was going to do to her [him?], before I did it to her [him?]', but it didn't wash, he was strung up like a good 'un in the cowshed {come to think of it, why do they call you Jimmy2Cows? [actually, don't answer that]}. As they dragged him from the court, shackled and manacled, he was heard bleating loudly 'but I know nothing about that little two-step staircase your honour!'").

      They'll put you out to pasture (which is maybe what you wanted all along - easy access and all that).

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    brilliant!

    So, if I nick 1 grand and keep it secret, that's illegal, but if I twitter about it, it becomes legal and I can keep it?

    ...

    oh, I see, it only relates to the actions by the government agencies... Right, so how can I become one of them?

    ...

    I see, by invitation only... right...

  21. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    REPUBLIC!

    HAVE A BANANA!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Monty Python

    I am extremely disappointing they haven't revived the series. There's such huge amount of material just waiting to be used these days, such potential! And all they can come up with is that half-hearted little britain...

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Monty Python

      You should try The Bugle podcast.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IMO it's absolutely essential that spooks hoovering everything remains illegal. We know that spooks are going to try to hoover everything...they have to in a sense, because every other country's spook outfits are doing exactly that and not to do so would put them at a disadvantage.

    It should remain illegal, however, because that stops misuse of data being applied to the citizens of their own country; and that is the way to a truly horrifying future.

    Spooks jockeying for position on the world stage is what spooks do. Spooks using their knowledge and techniques against their own countrymen to consolidate their own power is not fine, and should be curtailed.

    1. elDog

      Damn, I need something between a thumbs-up and down for this comment

      I'll grant you the thumbs-up one FWIW but life is nuanced.

      Once data gets hoovered it never dies. I don't care how many T&C/Privacy statements we read and agree to, that data is going to be there way beyond our lifetime.

      Also, don't forget, our "agencies" have great backups of everything. Need your hard disk restored? Send $99.99 to Box 666, Fort Meade, MD.

      So, it's legal and non-stoppable to snort this stuff.

      Can it be illegal to use it without court order (and public scrutiny)? That seems like the right path.

  24. Captain Hogwash Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Just add this to the list I guess.

    war is peace

    freedom is slavery

    ignorance is strength

    Illegal is legal (as long as we let you know about it)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Just add this to the list I guess.

      You forgot "Trust the Computer".

  25. Chris 244

    GCHQ rep Tom Cheshire

    Seriously, their rep is named "Tom Cheshire"? Methinks someone in GCHQ is a Lewis Caroll fan.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: GCHQ rep Tom Cheshire

      Presumably, because they are laughing at us and the situation.

  26. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Good news indeed.

    I'd like to inform the court that I was doing 87 on I95 on Sunday, and would like the SC Police to return my fine monies under the same ruling.

  27. Goldmember

    Wow...

    I had no idea there was an alternate spelling of "judgement" without the "e" until today.

    I'd rather not burst into fits of rage/ uncontrollable laughter/ tears of frustration at the ridiculousness of this ruling so close to beer time, so will refrain from further commenting on the article.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > We are pleased that the Court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful.

    Burning witches used to be lawful. Doesn't make it right.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Words cannot describe the feeling of utter revulsion at the reasoning given to legitimise illegal bulk data collection of my private information. Even when I have gone out of my way to obscure easy interception the criminals operating out of Cheltenham, concoct new methods facilitating the theft and pickpocketing of my private communications. What I can't quite understand is, where is outcry? why do YOU, the "British" accept this kind of dehumanisation. The register is one of the few news outlets that reports on this type of criminality, its disgusting that the other media outlets refuse to challenge their masters.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Denial...

    ...is not a river in Egypt.

    If you have no clue about security then you have no business commenting on privacy issues.

  31. Shaha Alam
    Windows

    wait, wait

    So its OK for the government to shaft you as long as someone has leaked the intent to shaft or if the government have post hoc confessed to shafting people??

    I must've misunderstood what's happened here because I feel I've been legally shafted.

    1. A Ghost

      Re: wait, wait

      You have. You're just having your nose rubbed in it for good measure.

      This is meant to make you question your sanity.

      It is also meant to instill a feeling of hopelessness that instills a sense of learned helplessness.

      They've been working on this shit for years. This is all part of the larger game.

      Everything is going according to plan. I wouldn't worry about it too much. No one else seems bothered by it.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Catch-22!!!

    So if GCHQ uses a highly classified program to intercept the British people's communications, it is illegal, but the British people have no recourse because they of course don't know about the highly classified program. However, if the existence of the illegal classified program should ever be leaked, then the program becomes legal, because it has been "publicly disclosed". So basically the court just said "GCHQ can do whatever it fucking wants to with your data."

    Until this is changed, millions of Brits should protest this by clogging the courts with requests to legally change their last names to "Yossarian".

  33. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "Prior to December last year, the secret policy breached Article 8, the right to a private life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression without State interference, the tribunal said."

    A) As almost first commenter (Lost all faith...) says, why has there been no punishment? If I was tapping your calls and snooping on your data traffic I'd certainly get prison time. I don't expect NSA or GCHQ officials to get jail time, but prosecutors or some tribunal should at least be breathing down their neck and making them VERY nervous.

    B) Why in the hell would disclosing illegal practices magically make them legal? These practices still breach the right to a private life. I'm not sure these practices breach the right to freedom of expression without State interference, since neither the UK or US regimes have been cracking down on freedom of speech.

    1. Looper
      Stop

      since neither the UK or US regimes have been cracking down on freedom of speech.

      Ever heard of Barret Brown? Inside for five years precisely because he shone his journalist's light on the extremely dubious activites of private contractors to FBI, NSA et al.

      He shared a publicly available link, which has been shared by many other security journalists, yet none except him were charged. They tried to put him away for 130 years for sharing a single publicly available link. The real reason was that he showed them up in a very bad light in other matters, and this was revenge.

      If that is not cracking down on freedom of speech, then nothing is. Do you seriously think that GCHQ and the UK government would not try it on if in a similarly embarrassing position?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: since neither the UK or US regimes have been cracking down on freedom of speech.

        State revenge eh? Would make Russia and China proud that we're following them to the bottom of the barrel.

        But woe betide any individual who does the same.

        As Theresa May says: Stuff Magna Carta - some of us really are above the law.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: since neither the UK or US regimes have been cracking down on freedom of speech.

        "since neither the UK or US regimes have been cracking down on freedom of government approved speech."

        TFTFY

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