The IPT ruling also came soon after a Guardian analysis of the Snowden documents discovered that British intelligence agencies spied on communications between journalists at U.K. and U.S. outlets.

Shortly thereafter, the U.K. government admitted that it had also spied on communications between human rights lawyers and their clients, particularly those who were suing British intelligence agencies for their roles in rendering and torturing Libyan dissidents.

However, ISC’s report claimed that GCHQ’s large-scale surveillance methods “cannot… realistically be considered blanket interception,” and that intercepted emails go through “several stages of targeting, filtering and searching so that they are believed to be the ones of the very highest intelligence value.” “This just confirms that the ISC lacks the sufficient independence and expertise to hold the agencies to account.”
—Jim Killock, Open Rights Group

Nonetheless, ISC said, “a more fundamental review” of the GCHQ’s legal framework for mass surveillance is overdue and in need of reform.

“We consider that the communications of UK nationals abroad should receive the same level of protection under the law irrespective of where the person is located,” the report stated. “The interception and communication of data should be authorized through an individual warrant signed by a secretary of state.”

In addition, these programs must be more transparent to Ministers of Parliament to ensure that the searches being conducted are within the boundaries of human rights law. As of now, the report found, “neither Ministers nor the [Intelligence and Security] Commissioners have any significant visibility of these issues.”

As Privacy International explains, “Today’s report is official confirmation that the security services will seek to overstep any powers that are granted to them. Any new surveillance law should therefore seek to restrain, and not expand, the Government’s powers.”

For its part, ORG published an “alternative” investigation into the GCHQ’s activities, with its own recommendations for reform.

“The consequences of GCHQ’s activities have the potential to harm society, the economy and our foreign standing,” ORG said. “These have not been fully explored by Parliament.” GCHQ’s surveillance programs “affect ordinary people,” ORG added, “not just those suspected of threatening national security.”

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