The practice is being challenged by Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, Liberty, Privacy International, Index on Censorship, English PEN and Article 19. They have written to Keith Vaz, chair of the select committee, raising their concerns.
It is a long-standing privacy principle that an individual should have access to their personal information. This is particularly necessary in healthcare - after all there is nothing more personal than health information.
As the mass digitisation of health records increases, many issues arise about this access right. The right of 'subject access' comes with its own complexities. One challenge is that individuals can sometimes be compelled to conduct subject access requests in order to share their sensitive information with other institutions who wouldn't normally be able to access this information. Another challenge is around the issue of parental access to the health information of adolescents.
Lawyers acting for the UK charity Privacy International say the programme is not necessary or proportionate. They say the laws being used to justify mass data trawling are being abused by intelligence officials and ministers, and need to be urgently reviewed.
Privacy International has submitted a claim to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is supposed to review all complaints about the conduct of Britain's spy agencies. The organisation hopes for a public hearing and early rulings because of the seriousness of the situation.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a separate legal challenge was lodged Monday in response to the government surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden. London-based Privacy International filed a complaint alleging that British spy agency GCHQ may be circumventing U.K. law by obtaining data on British citizens from the NSA’s PRISM Internet surveillance program.
The privacy group has asked the tribunal for a declaration that Tempora is in violation of various regulations including RIPA and the European Convention on Human Rights. It has also asked for an order to destroy all unlawfully obtained material. The complaint also cites rights to privacy and freedom of expression in ECHR to ask the tribunal for a declaration against the Secretary of State for not ensuring that there is in place a legal regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by U.K. authorities of private communications of individuals located in the U.K. which have been obtained by US authorities.
“Secret law is not law,” said Eric King, head of research at London-based Privacy International, which campaigns against intrusion by governments and corporations. “The scope and scale of this program, which monitors the entire British public and much of the world, cannot be justified as necessary and proportionate.”
The organisation announced the legal challenge today claiming that the “expansive spying regime is seemingly operated outside of the rule of law, lacks any accountability, and is neither necessary nor proportionate”.