Snoopers' Charter, round two: Privacy campaigners gear up for next web surveillance battle

Human rights group Liberty has raised funds for a judicial review of the controversial web surveillance law.


The new law allows intelligence agencies to hack into systems and devices.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The controversial Investigatory Powers Act may now be law, but for privacy campaigners that doesn't mean the fight is over.

The government has argued that the new legislation is needed to update and clarify the powers of police and intelligence agencies.

But the new law also significantly extends the powers of the state, for example, requiring internet companies to keep customers' web-surfing history for 12 months. It also gives intelligence agencies powers to conduct mass hacking of communications infrastructure, PCs, smartphones and other devices.

The legislation received royal assent in November last year, but many of the most controversial aspects have yet to come into force. Critics warn that the law allows the state to monitor everybody's web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Civil rights campaign group Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in what has been dubbed by many the Snoopers' Charter.

Earlier this month it started to raise funds for the review through a crowdfunding campaign, which closed yesterday after raising £53,313, beating its £50,000 target. It will now seek permission for the judicial review from the government, which is likely to take a few months.

"It's been overwhelming to see so many people join our challenge to the Investigatory Powers Act. We'll now be seeking permission to take our case to the High Court," Liberty legal officer Emma Norton said.

"The powers we're fighting threaten our right to protest and to express ourselves freely, our free press, privacy and cybersecurity. But with so much public support behind us, we're hopeful we will be able to persuade our courts to restrain the more authoritarian tendencies of this government and its surveillance regime."

Liberty's review is focusing on areas that it believes breach the public's rights:

  • Bulk hacking: Liberty warns that the law allows police and agencies to access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, "leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers".
  • Bulk interception: the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.
  • Bulk acquisition of everybody's communications data and internet history: "This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies," warns Liberty.
  • Bulk personal datasets: the legislation lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. "These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population, and are ripe for abuse and discrimination," Liberty says.

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