back to article Spied upon by GCHQ? You'll need proof before a court will hear you...

The UK's only judicial body for hearing complaints against the intelligence services has ruled claimants must show why their communications are "potentially at risk" of being collected by the government's mass-surveillance activities. On Monday the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) handed down its judgment which threatened …

  1. Adam 52 Silver badge

    What the court is saying, if you read the judgement, is that they don't want to be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of people just because GCHQ have been spying on hundreds of thousands. Their argument is that GCHQ is allowed to, which would appear to be prejudging the case somewhat.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Down

      No, what the court is saying is that they don't want to have to deal with these cases, full stop and they're going to do their damndest to ensure that none is ever heard.

      If you look at the history of their actions, this is nothing new.

  2. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Big Brother

    When elected governments no longer support the requests of the governed they are no longer a democracy.

    Or put another way, people with power never give it up willingly.

    1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      "people with power never give it up willingly"

      They rarely do, but it happens, with Cincinnatus being the most famous example.

    2. viscount

      What about Sulla?

      1. madick

        What about Sulla?

        He'd slaughtered, banished, or scarred away all his potential opponents and critics before he retired. That left him with nothing to do except petty bureaucracy - either this bored him, or he considered it beneath him.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Well look, IPT is not a court, its one of these pseudo legal things outside the judicial process to keep the spooks outside legal challenges. That might have been tolerable when the spooks were concentrating on non-UK targets, but now they're spying on UK, that makes this tribunal more a danger to the UK than protecting it.

      The obvious parallel here is the TTIP trade agreement and its Tribunal of Corporate Lawyers that can overturn national laws at the behest of Corps. Again, another pseudo court to avoid legal challenges, outside the democracy.

      Another point is ECHR's and its EU equivalent the ECJ, have a National Security exemption for basic rights, *but* IPT don't get to decide if they can apply the exemption, ECHR/ECJ do. So exhausting the rubber stamping body's process is likely to speed things up. Since they can't fight up in the higher court till they've exhausted the lower court process.

      "Judicial Process" is a name used to label a specific hierarchy of law enforcement bodies. It's not "anything done by a judge". The big brown log a judge leaves in the toilet after a curry is not a "judicial process" just because its a process done by a judge! These tribunals and bodies are intended to appear as a judicial process, but are more akin to the Jalfrezi floater.

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    It's all about standards

    Forms, that is!

    "However, the tribunal stated it was "entirely satisfied that there is insufficient information in the standard form which is being used by all the other 657 Claimants (including the rest of the Ten) to justify" the hearing of their complaints."

    If the 'standard' form is insufficient for consideration why does it even exist?

    Is there a non-standard form that can be filled in so that they will consider a case, or am I just being frivolous?

    I suppose it is a case of ' If you think you have a case fill in the form'.

    ' The form you have filled in gives insufficient information for your case to be considered'.

    'You must give us more information but we don't have a form for that so use the standard form'.

    I think a guy called Joseph Heller wrote a book about something like that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's all about standards

      It's worth noting that the "standard form" was a product of Privacy International, not the IPT.

      The IPT are complaining that Privacy International's "standard form" contained insufficient information, and have requested further information from each claimant.

  4. Camilla Smythe

    I often make an effort to top myself when faced with the same.

    I may have missed something but does not attempting to top yourself[1] as a result of someone else's actions[3] qualify as 'harm'?

    [1] After many attempts using prescription rubbish it turns out that a ligature around the neck and a twist from a Big Spanner[2] is the best way to go.

    [2] After the first twist you will be winding string.

    [3] No. I cannot 'prove it' but it's pretty bloody obvious.

    1. Christoph

      Re: I often make an effort to top myself when faced with the same.

      "[1] After many attempts using prescription rubbish it turns out that a ligature around the neck and a twist from a Big Spanner[2] is the best way to go."

      Non ex transverso sed deorsum

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: I often make an effort to top myself when faced with the same.

        Paulo longius abit torquent. Julius Caesar, ut eheu

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Evidence of absence

    from wikipedia:

    When Alice bakes pies, she places them on her window-sill.

    There are no pies on her window-sill.

    Therefore, Alice has not baked any pies.


  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I doubt Privacy International is too worried. A refusal by the IPT is likely to be a required step to taking this to the European court.

  7. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Scarlet Kim

    "According to Scarlet Kim, the Legal Officer at Privacy International"

    An apt name for someone dealing with a case involving the Security Services

    John [Scarlett] [Kim] Philby

  8. Paul 164

    "...they were each actually required to submit information as to why they were 'potentially at risk.'"

    Basically meaning that GCHQ will then use this information to use as an excuse to scrutinise (well, monitor) these individuals under the guise of the IPT requiring more information to review their cases!

  9. CYMinCA


    So they are asking if there's a reason why they might spy on you or they will dismiss the case, but if there is a reason why they might spy on you then you've justified their defence so no way to win.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So they are asking if there's a reason why they might spy on you or they will dismiss the case, but if there is a reason why they might spy on you then you've justified their defence so no way to win.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Ummm.....

      Give the honorable poster a cigar! This is exactly how it works.

      And if you think that's unintended, I have an internet to sell you. Welcome to the world of political activism.

      This is the trouble with groups like Privacy International. Not their fault, by any means, but an inevitable consequence of the way they operate. They'll make a lot of fuss, then the Powers That Be will make something that looks at first glance like a "concession" but on closer examination turns out to be nothing of the sort. It's SOP.

      What the concession does is to confuse the issue, placate most of the campaigners, and basically quiet things down again. In order to understand why it doesn't mean squat, you'd need to be paying attention, and the people who play this game professionally - civil servants, mostly - know that only a vanishingly tiny fraction of the populace is doing that.

      Here in NZ, we had a brouhaha a few years ago about proposed "three strikes" copyright legislation, which was promptly withdrawn. But those of us who were paying attention knew all along (1) that there was no "three strikes" proposal in the first place (the whole thing was a put-up job by a newly elected government trying to score points over its predecessor), and (2) the really important copyright provisions were, at that same moment, being negotiated in ACTA. We "won" a victory against a phantom, people celebrated and moved on - and were promptly mugged by the much bigger juggernaut that the butterfly-like public attention span didn't even want to know about.

  11. Chairo

    Mass surveillance

    think it through! The Judge has a valid point here. As they went on and sued the biggest spyhouse in Europe, there is no way they are under mass surveillance any more.

    Mine's the one with the black sedan parked in front...

  12. rtb61

    Why the Secrecy?

    What they are really concerned about, disclose sufficient details of the invasions of privacy and it will demonstrate that it was purposefully political.

    They specifically targeted union leaders, influential labour party members, environmentalists, social reformers, protesters and as always with right governments, intellectuals that challenged psychopathic capitalism.

    That is the rabbit hole, most of the investigations were not about terrorism or organised crime, they were about politics and looking for ways to attack the opposition either directly or through their families. So political players inside GCHQ working with the Torries to attack and destroy any opposition to Tax Havens, the military industrial complex profits, more wealth for the rich and more austerity for the poor, basically any threats to the organised crime of right wing politics.

  13. MrDamage Silver badge

    why they were 'potentially at risk.'"

    Given the amount of thumbdrives, laptops, and other forms of storage being left on the tube "accidentally" by public servants, the victims of the illegal spying regime don't have to look far for the examples of why they are at risk.

  14. Mike Shepherd

    663 applications?

    Security or not, the first rule of dealing with "public servants" is not to raise anything that looks like it may become a lot of work, thereby delaying tea breaks for months to come. Success comes from indicating an easy route, then beckoning gently from that direction.

  15. scrubber


    The only way to prove they were illegally spying on you is to illegally hack them, thus giving perfect justification for them spying on you as you are the type of person that will hack into secret government servers.

  16. banalyzer

    Curious that no one has stated the obvious reasons

    Exactly what does mass surveillance actually mean?


    1. I am British and thus a spying target

    2. I am not British and thus a spying target.

    Or do I have the wrong interpretation of 'mass surveillance', always a possibility of course.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I may have mentioned this before, elsewhere in The Register................

    ....but Theresa May and her (so called) civil service are determined to recreate the STASI, but in 2016 and in the UK. This news item is one more sign that GCHQ, NSA and other Five Eyes agencies are well on the way to demolishing all forms of privacy. I recommend abandoning the internet, setting up dead letter drops with your friends, always paying in cash, using burner phones....oh yes.....and actually talking to people one-on-one in place of texting across the table at the coffee bar.

    As far as avoiding facial recognition hits, I recommend the suggested Ziggy Stardust style of facial decoration which can be found on the internet.......that's before you abandon the internet.

    William Burroughs had this to say about paranoia (before hundreds of readers here accuse me of it):

    - The paranoid is a man who knows a little of what is going on

  18. PowerBenny
    Black Helicopters

    I'm Spartacus

    I am one of the 663. I'm not an overt political activist, not a union leader, rarely summon the energy to go and protest about anything, am not a spy, not an illegal hacker, and I'm not a foreigner. What I am is an interested UK subject, someone who cares about my rights and who identified an opportunity for me to stand up to the government and add my small voice to this challenge and hope to see them have to justify their actions.

    So, given all the above, I am now placed in a situation where I have to offer this extra evidence as to why I think I have been spied upon. I can come up with some stuff about Edward Snowden's revelations but if there are any other suggestions on what I might send back to them then I would welcome your input.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: I'm Spartacus

      I'm not one of the 663 but have strong and deep evidence I was spied upon, including but not limited to emails from a since exposed police infiltrator. I never applied to PI as I had no faith it would be taken seriously, but if it's being dismissed in this flippant manner then I perhaps should (reluctantly hold up my hand, sigh, and mumble "I'm Spartacus").

      However, I'm still put off submitting a complaint as they are limiting it to the first ten cases, instead of the strongest ten, and I'm not sure if those ten have to be part of the six hundred and sixty three. Do you know if that is the case?

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: I'm Spartacus

        We appreciate your expression of willingness to participate. Unfortunately, the claims in this case had to be filed by 4 December 2015. The reason is that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal found that unlawful GCHQ surveillance, on which these claims are based, became lawful as of 5 December 2014. Once a claim is filed, the Tribunal will only search GCHQ’s records for unlawful activity during the year before the claim was submitted. What this means is that a claim submitted on 14 September 2015 would lead to records being searched for the time period between 14 September 2014 and 5 December 2014. Claims submitted after 4 December 2015 would address surveillance by GCHQ that was deemed lawful by the Tribunal and therefore not subject to a search.

        It's even more of a con than the article conveyed! Apologies to PI but no apologies to the IPT:

        "If Sir Jimmy abused you in the you before you first complained, then we would certainly consider accepting your proof".

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The answer is in the question

    "claimants must show why their communications are "potentially at risk" of being collected by the government's mass-surveillance activities"

    Just in case it gets missed I'll repeat it "The governments mass-surveillance activities."

    The security services have stated they collect the 'haystack' rather than concentrating on needles.

    In other words they collect everything they can about everyone & sort it out later.

    So by definition everyone's data is not just "potentially at risk" of being collected, but is actively collected already, and unless and until the IP Bill is passed into law this collection is illegal.

    It should not be necessary to have to provide a justification for each individual case to show cause for these concerns when the government and security services have already proudly trumpeted this information.

    See "Surveillance: Citizens and the State - Constitution Committee" on the Government website

    See Section 48 under "LARGE-SCALE, ROUTINE PRACTICES"

    48. Many surveillance practices are now widespread and routine, with data being collected on the entire population and not just on traditional "suspects". The practices are no longer carried out only by specialist bodies such as the police and border control agencies. Information is frequently stored and used as a matter of normal organisational routine. Liberty argued that whilst the proliferation of CCTV has attracted more observation and comment, arguably the most profound societal shift in the last decade has been the growth in the use of mass informational databases. (p 105)

    Throw that at any court that wants you to show why your communications are "potentially at risk" of being collected.

  20. StuartMil

    So to file a complaint about GCHQ secretly intercepting my communications with American citizens (FB friends in general and fiancée) without telling me, I have to submit proof that they did it. Albeit they did not tell me, will not tell me and I can't even file a DPA request to get the proof that they did, so that I can complain about it. Seems like the "Tribunal" don't want anyone to complain about anything...

    Now that the simple bit is done, how to complain about the NSA doing the same thing? ;-)

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