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Human rights: Challenge over legality of certain GCHQ practices leads to tribunal

The supposed use of mass surveillance programmes has resulted in previously unheard of legal challenges against GCHQ, reports the BBC.

In light of documents leaked by Edward Snowden detailing the excessive use of personal observation by a UK surveillance programme named Tempora, it has been argued that such practice surpasses lawful levels under the Human Rights Act. It was claimed in the documents released that the government operation went as far as authorising the inspection of phone calls, emails and even personal activity on social media sites.

A hearing of the legal challenges presented by a number of bodies, including Amnesty International and Liberty, will take place under the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to ensure spy laws have been and continue to be adhered to. Judges involved will also seek to determine whether Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act have been breached. Article 8 seeks to protect an individual's right to respect for their private and family life while article 10 safeguards one's right to freedom of expression.

'Legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the "unprecedented legal challenge" - which will be held in public - was likely to be a "highly unusual hearing". He said the case would be held on the basis of "agreed hypothetical facts"', reports the BBC.

The public forum in which GCHQ will be required to respond to these allegations will be welcomed by all. As the BBC observed, 'The law surrounding interception and intelligence gathering is highly complex and used to be understood only by a few...the attention being paid to what can and cannot be done is growing.' Furthermore, the Prime Minister and his Government have recently declared their intention to ensure security services are able to continue to survey individual phones and internet activity when necessary which blurs the understanding of the legal boundaries on the subject to an even greater extent.

Despite the Government neither affirming nor repudiating the existence of Tempora, GCHQ has continued to insist that all work carried out by them is lawful.