Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas is taking the government to court today over claims that the security services have invaded people’s privacy in their communications with parliamentarians.
Ms Lucas says there is a “strong likelihood” GCHQ is intercepting her communications as part of the Tempora programme exposed by CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The Tempora programme, operated primarily by GCHQ, monitors and collates, on a blanket basis, the full range of electronic communications data produced in, or transiting through, the United Kingdom and numerous other countries.
Today’s case centres on an apparent breach of the Wilson doctrine – a government policy which should guarantee that communications between parliamentarians and the public are free from blanket surveillance and interception.
This week’s hearing will see Caroline Lucas and fellow Green, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Jenny Jones, demand urgent clarification on the doctrine’s scope.
The hearing takes place following recent revelations of the routine monitoring of calls between MPs and prisoners.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “The blanket surveillance of the communications of parliamentarians could have a deeply chilling effect on our relationship with the public.
“Parliamentarians must be a trusted source for whistle blowers and those wishing to challenge that actions of the government.
“My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me are free from blanket monitoring.
“It’s absolutely vital that the trust between MPs and constituents is maintained – and that people feel able to communicate freely with their representatives in Parliament.”
Baroness Jones said: “As parliamentarians our job is to hold ministers to account. If our communications are subject to blanket surveillance, and people are less able to freely contact us with important and sensitive revelations, then our ability to do our job is hugely curtailed.
“There is a clear public interest in protecting the communications of parliamentarians from unnecessary surveillance, which is why we’re bringing this case to court to halt any attempt to trample on the Wilson doctrine.”
The pair are demanding proper judicial oversight which would ensure judges sign off any surveillance that takes place, which would allow monitoring in cases where, for example, grave misconduct in public office is suspected.
The Tempora programme intercepts includes emails and other internet traffic as well as telephone calls.
The information gathered by Tempora is reported to be stored for three days in relation to content. Metadata is stored for 30 days.
Metadata includes the persons to whom communications are sent as well as, for instance, the time of sending and location of sender.