Government ​mass surveillance powers ruled unlawful

A court of appeal ruling could mean that parts of the controversial Snoopers' Charter will have to be rethought.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director
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The Court of Appeal has backed a challenge to the UK's surveillance laws, saying that sections of the legislation contravened European Union law.

Labour deputy leader and MP Tom Watson had challenged the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) -- a previous law covering state surveillance. Court of Appeal judges ruled that parts of Dripa were unlawful because the data gathered was not used to fight serious crime and because there was no independent sign-off on who could access it.

Liberty, which had supported Watson, said that the ruling also meant that significant parts of the government's current surveillance legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act -- also known as the Snoopers' Charter -- are effectively unlawful.

Martha Spurrier, Liberty's Director, said: "Yet again a UK court has ruled the government's extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgment tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public's human rights. The latest incarnation of the Snoopers' Charter, the Investigatory Powers Act, must be changed."

The challenge to Dripa was launched by Watson (and Conservative MP David Davis who later stepped back) in 2014, arguing that the legislation allowed government agencies to grant themselves access to this highly personal and revealing data for a huge range of reasons that had nothing to do with investigating serious crime.

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While Dripa expired at the end of 2016, the government then added those powers -- and more -- to the Investigatory Powers Act, which started to come into force in 2017.

Tom Watson MP said: "This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

"The government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data."

The Investigatory Powers Act expanded powers to gather data on the entire population, but also added new mass surveillance powers -- including mass hacking, and collecting huge databases containing sensitive information on millions of people. These powers are being challenged by Liberty in a separate case.

Last year, the Home Office accepted that the Investigatory Powers Act needed changing as a result of a European Court of Justice ruling -- but critics said proposed changes fell far short of what was needed.

Matthew Rice of the Open Rights Group said: "Once again, another UK court has found another piece of government surveillance legislation to be unlawful. The government needs to admit their legislation is flawed and make the necessary changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to protect the public's fundamental rights.

"The Investigatory Powers Act carves a gaping hole in the public's rights. Public bodies able to access data without proper oversight, and access to that data for reasons other than fighting serious crime. These practices must stop, the courts have now confirmed it."


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