GCHQ and the NSA’s intelligence sharing programme has been deemed unlawful by the Investigatory Power Tribunal (IPT), in the first negative judgement made against the British signals agency in the court’s history.
The ruling slammed a deal that allowed British and American spies to share data on their citizens, but also found that transparency measures implemented in December of last year meant the scheme could continue.
A spokesman from GCHQ said: "Today’s IPT ruling re-affirms that the processes and safeguards within the intelligence-sharing regime were fully adequate at all times – it is simply about the amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain."
Despite the ruling campaigners remain concerned that the disclosure of rules governing GCHQ’s activities are not sufficient to protect the privacy of British citizens, and plan to take their case further to the European Court of Human Rights.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, a plaintiff in the case, said: "The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by government to release previously secret ‘arrangements’.
"That is plainly not enough to fix what remains a massive loophole in the law, and we hope that the European court decides to rule in favour of privacy rather than unchecked state power."
British citizens’ right to privacy is protected by article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which seeks to balance respect for privacy with national security concerns.
"By its nature, much of GCHQ’s work must remain secret," the GCHQ spokesman said. "But we are working with the rest of Government to improve public understanding about what we do and the strong legal and policy framework that underpins all our work."