Academic is expert witness in internet privacy case

04 October 2013

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An Oxford Martin School cyber security expert has provided testimony in a legal challenge over internet surveillance in the UK.

Privacy campaigners concerned about the extent of surveillance by GCHQ have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights, following revelations published by the Guardian newspaper over the summer.

Dr Ian Brown, a Principal Investigator of the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre at the Oxford Martin School, is a member of the advisory board of the Open Rights Group, which brought the case along with Big Brother Watch and English PEN.

His statement includes an explanation of the current legal framework in the UK in relation to surveillance, a summary of the information obtained by the Guardian investigation, and a description of the large scale surveillance being undertaken.

“This isn’t targeting suspicious individuals suspected of terrorist activities, it’s very large scale interception of information,” he said. "People who say that you shouldn’t be worried if you have nothing to hide haven’t thought very clearly about their own lives or the importance of privacy more generally. You wouldn’t stand naked in Trafalgar Square handing out copies of your medical records. If people are going to be able to develop their own thinking on political matters, or talk to friends or colleagues about trade union matters, for instance, they should be able to do that without fear of someone looking over their shoulder.”

He said he believed the issue was a product of the continually evolving nature of the internet and cyber security practices, rather than of governments deliberately undertaking large scale espionage. “GCHQ is supposed to be a foreign intelligence agency, concentrating on communications being sent overseas. It’s a technological accident that often messages go through servers in the US and other countries; they’re international in that sense but they could be between two people in the UK. Many people have friends or relatives that live overseas but that doesn’t mean their communications are suspect.”

The groups had taken their case directly to the European Court of Human Rights because there was no effective remedy available via the British legal system, Dr Brown added.