The High Court has ruled that the controversial Investigatory Powers Act (2016), also known as the Snoopers’ Charter, is illegal and must be amended.
With suitably sweet irony, civil rights campaign group Liberty took to the Internet to crowdfund an appeal that the Act was in breach of European Law by violating the right to privacy of the public.
The Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice heard the case against the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the end of April. Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate determined that Part 4 of the 2016 Act was incompatible with EU law as it gave the Home Secretary the power to issue notices to ISPs for the retention of data.
Indeed, Part 4 of the Act meant that not only could the government order the retention of communications data, including location data and details of who we call, text or email and when we do so, but this data could then be accessed by numerous other public bodies. Crucially, all this could be done without independent authorisation by a court, and for reasons that have nothing to do with investigating terrorism as you might have expected given the government rhetoric.
It puts our personal information at risk from criminal hackers and foreign spies
While government ministers wanted the court to allow them until April next year to make amendments, the ruling dismissed this and instead has a deadline of November 1st 2018 for the Act to be redrafted. That redrafting must require a court (or ‘independent administrative body’) to preview any application, and as far as law enforcement goes, only in order to combat serious crime.
Speaking after the court decision, Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said that “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. It also puts our most sensitive personal information at huge risk from criminal hackers and foreign spies.”
Liberty has made it clear this is just the start of what it calls a comprehensive challenge to the law. Indeed, the second round of crowdfunding ‘The People vs the Snoopers’ Charter: Part II’ has already started. This will “contest the Government’s power to hack into our computers, phones and tablets and create huge ‘personal data sets’ – vast databases containing incredibly detailed records on every one of us,” according to Liberty, and “will argue that the Government can’t simply ignore our fundamental rights when it comes to surveillance, and has to fully justify the scope of the powers it claims it needs.”