Feb 6, 2015 · 1 minute

Britain's intelligence agency watchdog has ruled that data-gathering by GCHQ and its counterpart in the United States, the National Security Agency, violated human rights laws.

The finding marks the first time the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which previously defended the legality of mass surveillance programs, has rebuked intelligence agencies.

The New York Times reports that individuals will now be able to petition to learn what the agencies know about them if they believe they were surveilled before December 2014.

The IPT also ruled that GCHQ and the NSA have modified their practices to comply with human rights laws they previously violated.

The victory also comes as Prime Minister David Cameron fights to make it illegal for companies to offer secure communications tools without backdoors for the government. Furthermore, the prime minister's office believes this ruling makes it clear that GCHQ won't have to change its practices now that the public is aware of (some of) them. The Guardian reports:

The UK government issued a robust defence of GCHQ on Friday and said the judgment would not alter in any way the work of the monitoring agency. The prime minister’s spokeswoman said: 'Overall, the judgment this morning is that the UK’s interception regime is fully lawful. That follows on from the courts clear rejection of accusations of mass surveillance in their December judgment and we welcome that.'
So even though the admittance that surveillance practices violated international laws -- which is something the United Nations and advocacy groups have said for over a year -- is a minor victory, it doesn't seem like it will have much, if any, effect on the current programs.