High Court Rules Part of Snoopers’ Charter Illegal

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The High Court has ruled part of the government’s controversial Investigatory Powers Act illegal, giving ministers just six months to redraft it.

Rights group Liberty is celebrating after the first part of its crowd-funded legal bid to force the government to change large chunks of the so-called 'Snoopers’ Charter' largely succeeded on Friday.

The ruling focused on part four of the legislation, related to the mandate that communications providers and ISPs retain phone records, location data, internet browsing history and info on everyone a user emails and texts for a year.

According to Liberty, dozens of public bodies including local police forces and financial regulators can then access this information without independent authorization and for reasons unrelated to investigating terrorism or serious crime.

Lord justice Singh and Mr justice Holgate agreed with Liberty that large parts of the law are incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in that the government ministers can issue data retention orders without independent review, and for reasons other than “serious” crime.

However, they didn’t agree that the IPA was unlawful in allowing for “general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data.”

That would seem to suggest that the data will still be collected by ISPs, and thus remain a major target for cyber-criminals and nation state spies.

Ministers had already conceded that changes to the law must take place and had tried to pre-empt the ruling by announcing new proposals back in November.

These include the creation of a new Office for Communications Data Authorisation, to review and authorize any notices. However, the government has also proposed changing the meaning of “serious” crime to anything punishable by over six months in prison, which campaigners argue renders that stipulation meaningless.

The government did suffer a defeat in that it wanted until April 2019 to enact the changes. The judges ruled it has until November 1 this year.

Liberty’s case will continue in challenging other controversial parts of the law; including bulk interception of data by the authorities.

“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 whistle-blowers, and legal and patient confidentiality. It also puts our most sensitive personal information at huge risk from criminal hackers and foreign spies,” said Liberty director, Martha Spurrier.

“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. 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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