The UK government maintains that mass surveillance and interception of its citizen's social media activity such as in Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even Google is legal.
The GCHQ explains that it is legal to intercept routine Google searches carried out on overseas servers. However, the intelligence agency was accused of violating the human rights and privacy of millions of law-abiding citizens with the use of a complex loophole in the law.
The Office for Security and Counter Terrorism head Charles Farr said the websites are "external communications" and civil liberties groups did not take it well. Under this classification, the websites are not subject to strict policies over information posted on British sites. This is a continuing legal conflict since the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013.
Snowden's documents contained details stolen when he was working under the U.S. National Security Agency and this resulted to accusations from the Guardian and other programs subject to mass surveillance. He exposed many network surveillance done by the government.
Farr issued a 48-page statement to respond to civil liberties groups such as Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International and admits that the government permits the interception of many online activities with no warrant. However, he did not specify the extent which GCHQ can use the power to intercept external communications. GCHQ stated that this work is made in accordance with a strict legal policy framework and guarantees that its activities are necessary, proportionate and authorized.
"The suggestion that violations of the right to privacy are meaningless if the violator subsequently forgets about it not only offends the fundamental, inalienable nature of human rights, but patronizes the British people, who will not accept such a meager excuse for the loss of their civil liberties," Privacy International deputy director Eric King said.
Meanwhile, Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaign group said significant damage has been done to the expectations of people. People expect their communications are private from the eyes of the government, companies and law enforcement agencies. People are increasingly becoming worried about their privacy especially that the government is not willing to cooperate on a debate about its surveillance power.
According to Emma Carr of Big Brother Watch, the surveillance law needs to be reviewed and there should be a stronger and greater transparency as to how these powers are used to improve trust and accountability.