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Internet and email providers step up to join legal complaint against UK spy agency

Internet and email providers step up to join legal complaint against UK spy agency

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Privacy International has filed its third legal action in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Today the UK nonprofit filed a joint complaint along with six independent internet and communications service providers around the world, accusing the UK government of violating the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The complaint, filed in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a venue for government accountability, names the spy agency Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The main concern is that the government hacked systems administrators at private companies in order to gain access to their networks to conduct surveillance.

Last year, documents released by The Intercept and Der Spiegel showed that GCHQ hacked employees of the Belgian telecom Belgacom and, in cooperation with the US National Security Agency, targeted internet exchange points operated by three private companies.

This complaint is unusual because Privacy International was able to get internet providers to sign on

This complaint is unusual in that Privacy International was able to get private internet companies to cosign it. Most internet service providers in the US have not opposed government surveillance outside of issuing public statements and fighting for the right to inform their customers when they participate in government surveillance.

The claimants include Riseup and May First/People Link in the US; GeenNet in the UK; Greenhost in the Netherlands; Jinbonet in South Korea; Mango Email Service in Zimbabwe; and the hacker collective Chaos Computer Club in Germany. It's unclear whether the complaint will have any effect, but it is the first time GCHQ has faced such an action.

"Snowden's revelations have exposed GCHQ's view that independent operators... are legitimate targets for internet surveillance, so we could be unknowingly used to collect data on our users," a representative of GreenNet, which calls itself an "ethical" provider, told the BBC. "We say this is unlawful and utterly unacceptable in a democracy."

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