UK Data Surveillance Powers Declared Illegal By EU Court

The future of the UK’s Investigatory Powers bill has been thrown into doubt after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) deemed Britain’s data surveillance laws illegal.

The court condemned the legislation for allowing the indiscriminate collection of electronic communication data from every British citizen, when only the “targeted retention of that data solely for the purpose of fighting serious crime” is permitted.

As a result, the legislation “cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society, as required by the directive, read in the light of the Charter,” the ECJ said.

Privacy rules

The case was originally brought to the ECJ by David Davis, now the Brexit minister, along with deputy leader of the opposition Labour party Tom Watson, under the 2014 Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa).

The controversial Investigatory Powers bill, also known as the Snooper’s Charter, was passed by Parliament in June this year, despite being opposed by many technology companies as it requires Internet Service Providers to store the web browsing history of all of their customers for 12 months. Telecom companies will also have to record the date, time and duration of every call made by their users.

Human rights firm Liberty, the organisation supporting Tom Watson, said: “The government is breaking the law by indiscriminately collecting the nation’s internet activity and phone records and letting hundreds of public bodies grant themselves access to these personal details with no suspicion of serious crime and no independent sign-off — meaning significant parts of its new ‘snoopers charter’ are effectively unlawful.”

Watson said that the ruling  “shows it’s counter-productive to rush new laws through parliament without a proper scrutiny. Most of us can accept that our privacy may occasionally be compromised in the interests of keeping us safe, but no one would consent to giving the police or the government the power to arbitrarily seize our phone records or emails to use as they see fit.

“It’s for judges, not ministers, to oversee these powers. I’m pleased the court has upheld the earlier decision of the UK courts.”

The decision creates some major problems for the UK in a post-Brexit world, as the country’s data protection rules will now come under strict scrutiny. Any country that does not meet the EU’s data privacy standards are forbidden from having access to personal customer data, which could pose problems for businesses in the future.

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Sam Pudwell

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

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