High Court Sets Deadline For Investigatory Powers Act Changes

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Government has six months to revise parts of its ‘Snoopers Charter’ to bring it inline with European regs

Human rights and civil liberties organisation Liberty has forced the Government to make amendments to its hugely controversial Investigatory Powers Act, nicknamed the Snoopers’ Charter.

The Government surveillance scheme had faced stiff opposition before it written into law in June 2016.

But in January this year Appeal court judges ruled that the government’s mass digital surveillance regime was unlawful, after a case was brought by Liberty (on behalf of Labour MP Tom Watson and Conservative MP David Davis – Davis later withdrew from the case when he entered government).

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November deadline

Liberty had been given permission in June 2017 by the High Court to challenge the government over the Investigatory Powers Act.

The Investigatory Powers Act had triggered widespread concerns because it expands the powers of UK intelligence organisations to have the legal right to carry out communications interception and the bulk collection of communications data, as well as force Internet Service Providers to retain the ‘Internet connection records’ of their customers for a year.

Liberty had claimed that the Snoopers’ Charter was passed through Parliament during a time of “shambolic political opposition” which enabled the bill to become an act even though it believes the government had failed to provide the evidence needed to support the surveillance of everybody in the UK.

Despite government concessions, Liberty still sees the Investigatory Powers Act and its legalisation of mass collection of people’s communications data as a breach of British citizen’s rights and privacy.

And now the rules governing the British surveillance system must be changed quickly because they are “incompatible” with European laws, said judges.

The government has a deadline of 1 November this year to make the changes. The government had hoped to revise the law by April 2019.

However the High Court did not agree that the Investigatory Powers Act called for a “general and indiscriminate retention” of data on individuals, as Liberty claimed.

However, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate did call on the government to speed up the process of updating laws to ensure they were compatible with European Union legislation.

Rotten to the core

The Court ruled this part of the Act (storing communications data) is incompatible with people’s fundamental rights because ministers can issue data retention orders without independent review and authorisation.

“Police and security agencies need tools to tackle serious crime in the digital age – but creating the most intrusive surveillance regime of any democracy in the world is unlawful, unnecessary and ineffective,” said Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty.

“Spying on everyone’s internet histories and email, text and phone records with no suspicion of serious criminal activity and no basic protections for our rights undermines everything that’s central to our democracy and freedom – our privacy, free press, free speech, protest rights, protections for journalists’ sources and whistleblowers, and legal and patient confidentiality,” said Spurrier. “It also puts our most sensitive personal information at huge risk from criminal hackers and foreign spies.”

“The Court has done what the Government failed to do and protected these vital values – but today’s ruling focuses on just one part of a law that is rotten to the core,” said Spurrier. “It still lets the state hack our computers, tablets and phones, hoover up information about who we speak to, where we go, and what we look at online, and collect profiles of individual people even without any suspicion of criminality. Liberty’s challenge to these powers will continue.”

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