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Blow for Snoopers' Charter After Liberty Court Victory

Campaigners are claiming that large parts of the Snoopers’ Charter are effectively illegal after the Court of Appeal backed a challenge by MP Tom Watson and Liberty.

The rights group, representing the labour deputy leader in a long-running legal battle with the government, received a boost in December 2016 when the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled that the DRIPA legislation “exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society.”

That law was the forerunner to the infamous Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) passed by parliament last year, and contains many of its provisions.

In fact, experts have argued that the IPA gives the state even more power to pry into the private lives of blameless citizens and many of them said exactly that at the committee stage.

DRIPA forces communications companies to store info on the “who, when and how” of every email, text, phone call and internet communication in the country, along with location data. It also allows government agencies, police forces and other bodies to access this information even if they don’t suspect a crime.

Now the Court of Appeal judges have ruled that DRIPA was illegal because it didn’t restrict this access to investigations into serious crimes, and that it allowed police and others to self-authorize, rather than be forced to request access from a court or judicial body.

“Yet again a UK court has ruled the government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgment tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights. The latest incarnation of the Snoopers’ Charter, the Investigatory Powers Act, must be changed,” argued Liberty director, Martha Spurrier.

“No politician is above the law. When will the government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?"

Anticipating this ruling, the government has already proposed changes to the IPA, but campaigners say these “half-baked” plans don’t go nearly far enough to protect citizens’ privacy.

Liberty is now pursuing a case against the government regarding the IPA, which is due to be heard in the High Court later this year.

The Snoopers’ Charter goes further than DRIPA in forcing communications providers to store browsing histories for a year, as well as sanctioning mass hacking, spying on phone calls and emails en masse, and collecting huge databases containing sensitive information on millions of people.

It could still be argued, however, that merely by forcing communications providers to retain such detailed data — irrespective of what controls are put in place to access it — the government is painting a giant target on its back. That info could prove to be a goldmine to hackers looking for highly sensitive personal info to monetize through blackmail.

Bulk retention of data has also been criticized by former NSA technical director William Binney, who told parliament that it makes the job of intelligence services harder. In fact, he claimed such collection hobbled his team and let the 9/11 terrorists slip through the net.

In the US, this kind of surveillance is still favored, as per the recent FISA ruling, but Europe is moving away from this kind of regime to one which allows more targeted hacking of suspects by law enforcers.

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