All posts by Veera Mahuli

GCHQ Mass Surveillance in Violation of Human Rights

For the first time since the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s (IPT) establishment in 2000, a complaint against a UK intelligence agency has been upheld. The IPT, which oversees Britain’s secret agencies, is one of its most secretive and deferential courts. In a judgment last week, the IPT announced that the intelligence-sharing rules between the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and its British equivalent Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) governing the exchange of information collected through ‘mass surveillance of internet communications’ were against UK human rights law.

The tribunal ruled that “the regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities … contravened Articles 8 or 10 [of the European Convention of Human Rights]”. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) confers the right to respect for private and family life and Article 10 of the ECHR confers the right to freedom of expression.

The security agency’s access to information obtained by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) was held to be illegal for at least the last seven years, beginning with the introduction of the PRISM intercept programme in 2007.

In this case, UK’s mass surveillance techniques were challenged by Human Rights groups including Liberty and Privacy International with concerns regarding the information acquiring practices of the GCHQ and the NSA having been raised.

Contesting the significance of the decision, a GCHQ spokesperson stated the IPT’s decision as affecting only a small area of its information collection regime. And this claim, sadly, rings true.  The tribunal in this judgment upheld the legality of the current intelligence sharing operation between the US and the UK, having noted that the UK’s bulk interception regime contains adequate procedural safeguards, thus following the court’s assertion of the lawfulness of the intelligence sharing programme in a previous judgment in December 2014. It is only the previous procedures that have been declared illegal, though that admittedly covers a considerable span.Some of the secrecy surrounding the regime having been declared unlawful some amount of details regarding the rules, processes and safeguards in the regime has been, by necessity, brought brought into the public domain.

The extent of the information sharing operation was revealed from documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. While most of the outrage generated by Snowden’s released documents has been focused on the NSA, the GCHQ has reportedly been even more flagrant in its activities.

The GCHQ has long sought protection in the nature of its activities. However, the ruling, in what is arguably the most crucial step, suggests that an increase in public understanding and knowledge regarding the work carried out by the GHCQ will now be needed. In their defence, the agencies make a distinction between intrusive “mass surveillance”, which they insist they don’t indulge in, and “bulk interception” of electronic communications, which they deem necessary in pursuit of terrorist or criminal activity. The legal director for Liberty, one of the plaintiffs, claimed that by keeping the public in the dark about its programmes, the GCHQ acted in violation of human rights and the disclosure of its activities forced by the claimants deemed them lawful.

However, the dissatisfaction with the tribunal’s belief that the limited safeguards are an adequate protection of citizens’ privacy in relation to the unfettered power the GCHQ possesses over private communications is likely to culminate in an appeal before the European Court of Human Rights.

Spotify v. “Music”?

Controversy surrounded popular online music-streaming service Spotify after artist Taylor Swift pulled her entire catalog from it, and other prominent artists like Thom Yorke of Radiohead criticized it. The artists’ main issue with the service seems to be the fact that its revenue model is not artist-friendly, and threatens the music industry.

Currently, Spotify is a major player in the internet radio industry, controlling 6 percent of internet music streaming market, with discrimination in services to free and paid subscribers. The company is estimated to gross $1.2 billion from its 10 million paying subscribers alone, and has been recently valued at $8.3 billion.

However, artists’ perceived lack of compensation in terms of royalties from the internet radio and the negative effect of the service on regular music sales have led to much debate over the threat the streaming service poses to the music industry. Continue reading Spotify v. “Music”?

The “Bang Bang” Order: ‘Likely’ Copyright Infringement Trumps Intermediary Immunity

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This post examines the order given by the Delhi High Court (DHC), which is the third in a series of worrying orders by the DHC, from the perspective of Intermediary Liability.

In order to ensure no possible online access to Bollywood film “Bang Bang” which released on Oct 2, the Delhi High Court on Sep 30 directed Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to around 90 websites which could have streamed, broadcasted or provided online access to the film. The restraint order was passed by the Court on a suit filed by Fox Star Studios, one of the producers of the film. A separate list of 72 websites was submitted to the High Court by the producer, contending that the movie should be unable to be watched on the internet without its permission and 18 other websites were made parties to the suit by the producers. While the order mentioned 90 websites specifically, it brings ‘other websites as subsequently notified by the producers’ within its purview, thereby making it extremely likely for websites beyond those specifically mentioned to be blocked.  Further hearing on this matter will take place on Nov 21, 2014. Continue reading The “Bang Bang” Order: ‘Likely’ Copyright Infringement Trumps Intermediary Immunity

The Right to Be Forgotten – An Explanation

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This is the first in a two-part post on the Right to be Forgotten. This post is part of our 101 series of posts, which seek to explain the issue at hand, and the next post shall address the issue and the debate surrounding it in more detail.

In 2010, a Spanish citizen filed a complaint against a Spanish newspaper, Google Spain and Google Inc. with the national Data Protection Agency. The complaint objected to an auctioned notice of his repossessed home that kept coming up on Google’s search results.  The proceedings against the petitioner had been fully resolved and he claimed the reference to the proceedings on Google to be entirely redundant and a violation of his privacy rights. The Spanish court referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.  Continue reading The Right to Be Forgotten – An Explanation

Google and Antitrust: A Series of Unfortunate Events

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In its long series of antitrust woes, Google found itself facing an antitrust complaint filed by two Korean internet search sites a few years ago, accusing it of blocking third party search applications from the Android operating system, though it was later acquitted of the same. It was this complaint that later led to the European Union complaint. Preceding this, the internet giant was the subject of a complaint regarding Android filed with the European Commission by a Portuguese app store, Aptoide. Aptoide claimed abuse of its dominant position in the smartphone market by Google, accusing it of blocking third party app stores that rival its own app store (Google Play) in the Android operating setup. Thus, by creating obstacles for users to install any other app store but Play on the Android platform, Google ensures that there is no direct competition to it. Aptoide’s complaint also stated that the bundle services that are essential for the functioning of the Android system are tied up with Google Play and Google blocks access to Aptoide websites in its web browser Chrome Continue reading Google and Antitrust: A Series of Unfortunate Events