British spies acted illegally in accessing millions of personal communications collected by the US National Security Agency (NSA), according to a ruling from Britain's most secretive court.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has never before, in 15 years, ruled against the intelligence and security services.
But it said that up to December 2014 "the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities" breached articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which refer to the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression, respectively.
Documents disclosed by Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the NSA's PRISM and Upstream programs.
PRISM allowed the NSA access to data handled by internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Google and Apple; in one day it was able to collect 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo and 82,857 from Facebook.
Upstream is an NSA interception program that taps fibre optic cables carrying internet information.
In one month, Upstream collected 160 billion interception records.
GCHQ and the NSA share intelligence gathered by both programmes.
However, this type of information sharing between GCHQ and the NSA is now legal. This is because a legal case resulted in disclosure of the guidelines governing information sharing.
A GCHQ spokesperson said: "Today’s IPT ruling re-affirms that the processes and safeguards within the intelligence-sharing regime were fully adequate at all times - it is simply about the amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain.
However, the ruling could open the doors to millions of claims against the intelligence services.
Privacy International and Bytes for All, two claimants in the protracted legal case, are now petitioning the IPT to find out whether their communications were intercepted. If they were, they will seek their deletion.
The IPT told Sky News that anyone with a "reasonable belief" that their communications had been intercepted illegally could petition the Tribunal to find out what information GCHQ had gathered on them.
James Welch, the legal director of Liberty, one of the claimants said: “The Intelligence Services retain a largely unfettered power to rifle through millions of people’s private communications – and the Tribunal believes the limits safeguards revealed during last year’s legal proceedings are an adequate protection of our privacy.
"We disagree, and will be taking our fight to the European Court of Human Rights."
It seems that at long last the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has realised that the security system is way over stepping the mark. Millions of perfectly innocent internet users are having their actions monitored as it's easier than making sure those they monitor are a threat.