Privacy International v. United Kingdom (UK 5EY FOIA)
European Court of Human Rights
Application No. 60646/14
In September 2014, Privacy International filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) challenging the UK Government's refusal to disclose records relating to a surveillance agreement governing the exchange of signals intelligence between the governments of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand (“Five Eyes alliance”).
The origins of the Five Eyes alliance stretch back to World War II, but the relationships between the five countries are formalized in the United Kingdom-United States Communications Intelligence Agreement (“UKUSA Agreement”), first signed in 1946. Pursuant to the UKUSA Agreement, the Five Eyes countries agree to exchange by default all signals intelligence they gather, as well as the methods and techniques related to signals intelligence operations.
A 1955 version of the Agreement is the most recent version to have been made public. Communications methods have changed dramatically since 1955, vastly increasing the opportunities for governments to acquire, store and/or analyse communications and data and to share that information with other governments. The nature of signals intelligence has also changed dramatically since 1955. As modern communications have evolved, intelligence agencies have developed more advanced ways to access, acquire, store, analyse and disseminate information.
Privacy International has sought for years to obtain information about the UKUSA Agreement and the rules governing the Five Eyes alliance via freedom of information requests and other methods. In the UK, Privacy International made a FOIA request to GCHQ, which invoked a blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act that excuses it from any obligation to disclose records relating to its activities.
Privacy International asserts that GCHQ's assertion of a blanket exemption violates the right to access to information under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.