It's totally fine for GCHQ and MI5 to spy on MPs' communications like the rest of us, tribunal rules

Lynsey Barber
Follow Lynsey
Authorities can spy on anyone, even MPs (Source: Getty)

MPs keep insisting they're just like the rest of us. But now judges have ruled they actually are - when it comes to spying, at least.

A tribunal has ruled spy agencies such as GCHQ and MI5 are allowed to eavesdrop on the communications of MPs in the same way as they would anyone else.

Read more: Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee warns of government "snooper's charter"

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) made the decision in response to complaints from Green Party politicians Jenny Jones and Caroline Lucas who argued that exemption for parliamentarians came under a rule known as the Wilson Doctrine.

The widespread collection of data by spy agencies, as revealed by Edward Snowden, would likely include MPs' communications due to the "sheer scale of information" collected, it was argued. But the MPs believed this is a breach of the rule.

The IPT, though, said the doctrine, created by then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1966, isn't a law, and therefore there is no necessity for spy agencies to comply with it. The IPT ruling said:

We are satisfied that the Wilson Doctrine is not enforceable in English law by the claimants or other MPs or peers by way of legitimate expectation. The Wilson Doctrine has no legal effect, but in practise the agencies must comply with... their own guidance. The regime for the interception of parliamentarians' communications is in accordance with the law.

Lucas called the result a "body blow" for democracy.

My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me aren't subject to blanket surveillance - yet this ruling suggests that they have no such protection. Parliamentarians must be a trusted source for whistleblowers and those wishing to challenge the actions of the government.

That's why upcoming legislation on surveillance must include a provision to protect the communications of MPs, peers, MSPs, AMs and MEPs from extra-judicial spying. The prime minister has been deliberately ambiguous on this issue - showing utter disregard for the privacy of those wanting to contact parliamentarians.

Related articles