Cyber Stewards Network partner Bytes for All (B4A) is working together with Privacy International (PI) to sue the government of the United Kingdom over their Tempora surveillance program. Tempora is the code name for a project initiated by Britain’s signal intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It allows for access by the GCHQ to cable networks passing through the UK, including phone and Internet traffic. The massive amount of data collected through this program is also made available to GCHQ’s American counterpart, the National Security Agency.
B4A and PI have argued that the Tempora program violates the European Convention on Human Rights’ privacy safeguards. They also argue that the program directly violates the limits of lawful surveillance outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which regulates the power of British authorities in conducting surveillance. Another major criticism is that it “discriminate[s] against non-UK nationals,” meaning that they “currently receive even fewer legal protections than the communications of those who reside in the UK,” even though the cables monitored by the GCHQ carry a significant amount of international web traffic. B4A highlighted their own organization as an example of how the program disproportionately targets foreign nationals. As some of B4A’s Internet traffic goes through the UK, especially traffic routed through Virtual Private Networks based in Great Britain, their communication is liable for interception and monitoring. Given the sensitive nature of their human rights work in Pakistan involving confidential correspondences with lawyers, NGOs, public officials, partner organizations, and other stakeholders, B4A sees the potential for scrutiny by foreign intelligence agencies as particularly alarming.
The case has been lodged with the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal based on an earlier suit lodged by PI over the Tempora program. The suit is asking that the program be made illegal and that the GCHQ destroys all unlawfully obtained material. B4A has lodged similar complaints in Pakistan regarding secret surveillance programs. In May 2013, the organization lodged a petition with the Lahore High Court asking the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, to investigate the presence in Pakistan of FinFisher, a commercial surveillance software. In October 2013, B4A initiated a contempt of court charge against the government for not appearing in court to address the petition.