GCHQ now exempt from hacking laws

Privacy International claims UK government has pushed through legislation meaning GCHQ isn't subject to same rules

Privacy International has revealed the GCHQ cannot get in trouble for hacking after the government pushed through legislation that makes it exempt from surveillance laws.

The organisation said it heard from the government ahead of a court case relating to the GCHQ's operations which, it claims, includes hacking in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The government notified the claimants in the trial that the Computer Misuse Act was amended on 3 March 2015 to exempt the GCHQ intelligence service from rules set out in the act relating to hacking.

Privacy International, along with a group of other privacy and human right organisations filed complaints to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, claiming the actions of the organisation were classed as hacking under the Computer Misuse Act and were therefore illegal.

The changes mean the GCHQ is able to continue carrying out its work by whatever means possible. Privacy International said it appears "no regulators, commissioners responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies, the Information Commissioner's Office, industry, NGOs or the public were notified or consulted about the proposed legislative changes."

In February, a draft code was released giving UK spy agencies like the GCHQ powers to hack targets, including theose that don't have any link to crime or are a risk to national security, Privacy International said. However, very few details about the code have been released.

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: "The underhand and undemocratic manner in which the Government is seeking to make lawful GCHQ's hacking operations is disgraceful. Hacking is one of the most intrusive surveillance capabilities available to any intelligence agency, and its use and safeguards surrounding it should be the subject of proper debate.

"Instead, the government is continuing to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a capability it is clear they have, while changing the law under the radar, without proper parliamentary debate."

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