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EPIC Helps Challenge Surveillance by US and British Intelligence Agencies

By Peter Clarke, JD on March 22, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

The Electronic Information Privacy Information (EPIC) has just filed a third-party intervention brief before the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) to help challenge the surveillance activities of intelligence organizations of the United States and the United Kingdom.

The case, 10 Human Rights Organizations and Others v. The United Kingdom, according to EPIC's brief, "impacts the human rights to privacy, data protection and freedom of expression of people around the world ...," and is of "broad international importance because it involves arrangements to transfer personal data between the United States and European counties." A core purpose of EPIC's intervention is to show the Court that "current trends in U.S. and European surveillance law ... are undermining privacy, data protection, and security."

In making its case, EPIC states in its brief that the National Security Agency (NSA) of the US collects personal data from all across the globe and transfers such data without adequate legal protections. EPIC argues that the NSA has access to the majority of Internet traffic and a "nearly unbounded capacity to monitor and and collect private communications."

EPIC sets forth that "the sheer quantity of raw Internet data collected and stored by the NSA is stunning, with at least 150 sites around the globe processing billions of records per day."

Among other assertions, EPIC claims that the NSA obtains sensitive personal information about foreign citizens. This information includes cell phone location records, email address books, and photos and videos transmitted online.

Another major argument of EPIC is that US law does not limit the NSA's collection of non-US persons' data. In seeking to aid this case before the Court, EPIC argues that the "lack of legal restrictions on the United States' surveillance activities overseas means that a significant amount of personal information of non-U.S. persons is being collected and processed without adequate protection."

EPIC supports this case that seeks relief from government surveillance by also pointing out that "recent reforms have not provided adequate safeguards for non-U.S. persons against [government] surveillance activities," and by asserting that "both the United States and EU Member States are moving toward laws and measures that further undermine privacy and security."

This definitely is a case worth watching. Will the human rights organizations, with the help of EPIC, be able to convince the Court there should be at least some relief from the government surveillance they have tried to document? We shall see!

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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