Court says UK politicians don't get protection from snooping

AP News
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Posted: Oct 14, 2015 7:51 AM
Court says UK politicians don't get protection from snooping

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers are not immune from communications-monitoring, a British court ruled Wednesday, saying a 50-year-old doctrine protecting them from phone tapping has no legal force.

Three politicians complained to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that their communications were being intercepted by electronic spy agency GCHQ as part of its mass harvesting of emails, Web traffic and other communications data. Details of the surveillance powers of the U.S and its allies were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Green lawmakers Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones and ex-Respect Party lawmaker George Galloway argued the data-gathering violates the Wilson Doctrine — a rule implemented by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1966 that said no lawmaker's telephone should be tapped except during a national emergency.

The tribunal, which hears complaints about surveillance, ruled that the doctrine applies only to targeted, and not incidental, interception of Parliamentary communications — and that it "is not enforceable in English law."

They said the doctrine, "which commenced in respect of the tapping of telephones ... was not intended to extend, and could not in practice extend, to prohibit the interception, as part of a very large quantity of communications, of communications by parliamentarians which were not targeted by (a warrant)."

Lucas said the judgment was "a body blow for parliamentary democracy."

"My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me aren't subject to blanket surveillance — yet this ruling suggests that they have no such protection," she said.

Lucas called for legislation to ensure lawmakers could be "a trusted source for whistleblowers and those wishing to challenge the actions of the government."