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Greens start legal challenge over GCHQ snooping in violation of “Wilson doctrine”

big-brother-1984Two Green Party parliamentarians are taking legal action against the Government over claims that their communications continue to be intercepted by GCHQ. Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Jenny Jones have started legal proceedings at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), the tribunal which examines complaints about surveillance by the country’s intelligence agencies and other public bodies.

Lawyers will argue that there is a strong likelihood that both Ms Lucas and Baroness Jones’ communications are being intercepted as part of the Tempora programme exposed by CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowdon.

The Tempora programme, operated primarily by GCHQ, monitors and collates, on a blanket basis, the full range of electronic communications data produced in, or transiting through, the United Kingdom and numerous other countries.

The communications it intercepts includes emails and other internet traffic as well as telephone calls. The information gathered by Tempora is reported to be stored for 3 days in relation to content. Metadata is stored for 30 days.

Metadata includes the persons to whom communications are sent as well as, for instance, the time of sending and location of sender.

The information is processed and sifted and some is stored and analysed. In the notice and grounds sent to the IPT, on behalf of Ms Lucas and Baroness Jones, Leigh Day claim that the surveillance of their communications was unlawful as it is in breach of the Wilson Doctrine and breaches Parliamentary privilege.

The Wilson Doctrine was implemented by the then Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, on 17th November 1966. It provides that no Member of Parliament’s telephone shall be tapped, unless there is a major national emergency, and that any changes to this policy will be reported by the Prime Minister to Parliament.

Lawyers also claim the Government acted in breach of Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Rosa Curling from Leigh Day said:

The communications between members of the parliament, in both Houses, is protected by a policy, known as the Wilson Doctrine. This Doctrine clearly states that there should be no interception of communication sent to or from Members of Parliament. A breach of this important principle damages the vital running of Parliament.

Members of the public must be able to correspond with their elected representatives without fear that their communications are being monitored or snooped on by the government. This is a vital protection as it allows and encourages those who want to raise complaints about government policies or wish to whistle-blow and expose wrongdoings of the government, to do so with the knowledge that such communications are protected and private.”

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