The Court of Appeals Has Decided the UK's Surveillance Regime Was Unlawful After All

By Tom Pritchard on at

The government has been doing its best to spy on everyone and everything, with the Snooper's Charter giving them much broader powers on who and what they can spy on. While there have been many legal challenges linked to the controversial bill, including rulings from the EU, a ruling from the UK Court of Appeals means large part of the Snooper's Charter are unlawful.

Specifically the court has backed a challenge by now-Labour deputy leader Tom Watson against the mass data collection allowed by the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), a precursor to the current Investigatory Powers Act colloquially known as the Snooper's Charter. DRIPA expired at the end of 2016,only to be replaced by the current IPA that expanded the powers offered to the government regarding mass data retention.

Liberty, the pro-civil liberties and human rights organisation that represented My Watson in court, has already filed a challenge against the current Snooper's Charter which will be heard in the High Court later this year.

DRIPA itself has already been declared unlawful by the EU, so this ruling is little more than a formality. It does, however, send a message to the government declaring they won't be able to get away with unlawful surveillance. It's just unfortunate that this relates back to a law that expired over 12 months ago, and not IPA in its current form.

The court's ruling stems from the fact that the law didn't restrict access to people's data, in the context of the investigation and prosecution of crime, to the purpose of fighting serious crime. Police were able to authorise their own access, rather than requesting it through the courts or a similar supervisory body. In fact any government agency could access the sensitive data, regardless of whether they were investigating criminal activity or not.

The original challenge was filed back in 2014, and in 2015 the High Court ruled in favour of Watson and against the government as a whole. The government then appealed, and the Court of Appeals referred the case to the European Court of Justice who backed the High Court's initial ruling in 2016 and laid out extra safeguards to ensure people's privacy.

While this is a hollow victory, it's still a win with the government already conceding that aspects of the Snooper's Charter do need to be changed. Hopefully those changes mean scrapping the fucking thing, and not treating every single person like a criminal. [Liberty]

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