It’s grand, all those laws the GCHQ broke no longer affect it

18 May 2015

It turns out the UK government altered its laws last year to absolve its spy agency GCHQ from any wrongdoing, rendering any recent findings against it’s exuberant hacking fairly toothless.

So, for example, last February’s UK Investigative Powers Tribunal admission, which found that the GCHQ’s snooping on citizens using information passed down from the US National Security Agency NSAwas entirely unlawful, we assume is now worthless.

It also means far heavier findings such as April’s revelation of the same tribunal ordering the GCHQ to destroy legally privileged communications it unlawfully collected from a Libyan rendition victim are undermined somewhat.

That ruling was the first time in its 15-year history that the investigatory powers tribunal upheld a specific complaint against the intelligence services, according to The Guardian.

“It [was] also the first time the tribunal has ordered a security service to give up surveillance material.” It’s hard to establish, so, if any of the tribunals’ findings are, therefore, carrying any weight.

Privacy International revealed the change on Friday, highlighting just how secretive the clause change was.

The organisation, which is part of a larger complaint being brought against GCHQ for over a year now, found out last week of the amendment, which entirely undermines their case and many other related ones.

Last week was the first time the parties were notified that the government quietly introduced legislation last summer amending the Computer Misuse Act “to provide a new exception for law enforcement and GCHQ to hack without criminal liability”, said the organisation.

There was no parliamentary debate over the issue, which seems strange considering it absolves swathes of people from breaking swathes of laws.

Eric King, Privacy International’s deputy director, was understandably furious with the revelation, saying: “The underhand and undemocratic manner in which the government is seeking to make lawful GCHQ’s hacking operations is disgraceful.

“Hacking is one of the most intrusive surveillance capabilities available to any intelligence agency, and its use and safeguards surrounding it should be the subject of proper debate.

“Instead, the government is continuing to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a capability it is clear they have, while changing the law under the radar, without proper parliamentary debate.”

Conscience image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic