The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has ruled that GCHQ’s access to data that the NSA gathered flouted human rights laws.

The secretive UK court was created in order to keep tabs on British intelligence agencies, and its latest ruling could lead to GCHQ being forced to delete the information it gathered from users of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and other sites, writes Andrew Griffin of The Independent. The court ruled that the data collection broke Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which defends the right to a private and family life, as well as Article 6, which protects the right to a fair trial.

GCHQ Illegally Spied On British Facebook Inc And Twitter Inc Users

GCHQ: Historical data collection illegal

It is now possible for people who believe that they were the victim of data collection to request that GCHQ delete any information that the agency currently holds on them. In order to find out if they were spied on, British citizens can get in touch with the IPT and request a deletion.

Some groups of privacy activists who brought the original complaint against GCHQ are beginning that process now. This is the first time that the court has ruled against an intelligence agency since its inception in 2000.

However it has ruled that GCHQ’s access to the data was lawful from December 2014 onwards, and it is only data collected before that time that can now be deleted. Historical collection was ruled unlawful because the rules on GCHQ access to NSA information were secret before that time.

Ongoing court battle

Privacy groups are now appealing against data collection in general. Privacy International, Bytes for All, Amnesty International and Liberty brought the case against GCHQ, accusing surveillance agencies of acting as if they are above the law. They hailed the decision as a major breakthrough in the struggle to protect internet privacy.

For its part GCHQ claimed that the ruling boiled down to a technicality. A GCHQ spokesperson claimed that far from ruling that the intelligence-sharing regime itself contravened human rights law, the judgment simply clarified the “amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain.”