Campaigners crowdfund bid to take UK to human rights court over Prism spying

The European Court of Human Rights should decide if the government's Internet surveillance is legal, privacy groups said

Privacy groups have raised £25,000 (US$40,200) to take the U.K. government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its use of Internet and telecommunications networks to systematically spy on its citizens.

The action is supported by the U.K. based groups Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group and English PEN as well as by the German Internet campaigner Constanze Kurz. They decided to take the government to the ECHR after recent disclosures that it routinely taps, stores and sifts through the Internet data of British citizens using the U.S. Prism program and its own Tempora program.

To fund their legal challenge the groups set a target of raising £20,000, which they reached last Friday, and they have raised £5,000 more since then, Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock said on Tuesday.

The U.K. government's Tempora program also allegedly taps into sub-ocean cables that carry the U.K.'s and European Internet traffic around the world, and stores and sifts through that data, even if it is an email or a call between British or E.U. citizens, the groups said.The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was granted unlimited access to this data, they said.

This is not in accordance with the law, Killock said. The U.K. government is "stretching the law incredibly in a way that is not compatible with human rights," said Killock. "Basically, people's right to privacy is violated by taking their data without good reason," he added.

"The law appears to be written for targeted surveillance of individuals abroad, while its actually been used to harvest data about everybody en masse and indiscriminately. So it doesn't really feel like the law is designed to do the job it is being employed for," Killock said.

There is also the serious question whether in order to monitor a small number of terrorists or a small number of suspects it is realistically necessary to harvest everybody's data, he added.

ECHR was asked to handle the case last week and the groups should know within a couple of months if the request will be accepted, Killock said.

If so, the groups hope the ECHR will decide whether the government's surveillance activities and the existing legislation sufficiently protect the privacy of U.K. and European internet users.

The first £20,000 raised is enough to pay the litigation fees, said Killock. Further donations will be used for various lobbying efforts such as briefing Members of the European Parliament, holding news conferences and raising more awareness for the issue, he said.

The vast majority of the donations come from the U.K. and Germany, but the groups have had donations from across Europe, Killock said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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