EU warns UK of potential legal action over Tempora spying programme

European commission

The European Commission (EC) has issued a stern warning to the UK that it will take action if there is any hint that its Tempora spying programme breached the law.

The Tempora spying programme came to light in the summer of 2013 as part of the fallout from the PRISM spying campaign. It revealed that the UK’s GCHQ spy centre had tapped international telecoms cables carrying internet data and siphoned it off in vast quantities.

The UK is already facing legal action on Tempora and PRISM, with numerous privacy organisations taking the government to the European Court of Human Rights over potential breaches of privacy laws.

Now, EC justice commissioner Viviane Reding has warned that, if any evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered, she will launch proceedings immediately at a European level.

“If I come across a single email, a single piece of evidence that the Tempora programme is not used purely for national security purposes, I will launch infringement proceedings. The mass collection of personal data is unacceptable,” she said in a speech on Tuesday.

The launch of infringement proceedings is designed to give nations the chance to conform with EU law, before any formal legal action is taken. If this does not resolve the concerns, though, the EU can refer to the offending nation to the European Court of Justice with the threat of major fines.

Reding also revealed that the EC had contacted the UK government for more information on Tempora when its existence was first made public, but had been rebuffed.

“When the reports about Tempora emerged, the EC wrote to the UK government expressing its concerns and asking questions about the nature and the scope of the programme. The response was short: hands off, this is national security,” she said.

Underlining her position on the matter, Reding said she was pleased to the see the UK facing legal action already over the mass surveillance programme.

“I see with some satisfaction that the legality of Tempora and its compliance with the fundamental right to privacy is currently being analysed by the ECHR, following legal challenges from numerous citizens, notably from the UK,” she said.

“I have full confidence in the court in Strasbourg to listen to these citizens from the UK and their concerns. And to uphold their right to privacy against mass surveillance without limitations.”