THE interception of external communications by UK security services and the sharing of data with their US counterparts — first revealed by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden — will feature in three cases being called next week in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Big Brother Watch, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), and their reporter Alice Ross and ten human rights organisations and others claim that because of the sensitive nature of their activities, their communications may have been intercepted by either the UK or US security services.

The complaints were triggered by Snowden’s revelations in 2013 concerning electronic surveillance programmes used by the UK’s GCHQ and America’s National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept communications in bulk, and the sharing of data between the two countries.

Snowden — a former CIA analyst — revealed that the NSA had tapped into the servers of nine internet firms, among them Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, to track online communications with a program known as Prism.

GCHQ, Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency, was also accused of gathering information via Prism.

The scandal later widened when it was reported that GCHQ had been tapping fibre-optic cables carrying global communications and sharing vast amounts of data with the NSA for 18 months under an operation codenamed Tempora.

Snowden was charged in the US with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence, and has been living in Russia, where he sought asylum. After the cases are heard on Tuesday, the court will begin its deliberations in private and a ruling will be made later.

Big Brother Watch is being brought by three non-governmental organisations based in London and an academic based in Berlin, all of whom work internationally in the fields of privacy and freedom of expression. Big Brother Watch has been a vocal critic of excessive surveillance.

Investigations by Alice Ross and the BIJ frequently touch upon issues of national security, such as drone warfare.

The ten human rights groups are all said to have regular contact with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), politicians, journalists, lawyers, victims of human rights abuses and whistleblowers, both nationally and internationally.

Information contained in their communications frequently includes material which is sensitive and/or confidential.

They have already pursued their case in the UK in which they lodged complaints — between June and December 2013 — with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) about the bulk interception of external communications by UK intelligence services, and the intelligence sharing regime.

Following a closed hearing the Government disclosed information about “below the waterline” arrangements related to the sharing of intelligence,

However, the IPT found that the internal arrangements were “sufficiently signposted” and were subject to appropriate oversight.