Liberty Wins Right to Challenge Parts of Snoopers' Charter

Human Rights group Liberty has been given the green light to legally challenge parts of the UK’s controversial Investigatory Powers Act.

The non-profit was told by the High Court that it can apply for a judicial review of the mass surveillance legislation, which it claimed was passed into law “in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition” last year.

Labour failed to oppose the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter”, which forces service providers to store the browsing history of the entire populace – as well as their emails, phone call and text records – for a year. They can then be handed over to the authorities for analysis at will.

Now Liberty is planning to challenge that part of the Act, emboldened by victory in the European Court of Justice, which ruled that aspects of the previous regime, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), were illegal.

Liberty argued that the regime breached citizens’ rights by allowing indiscriminate data retention, with hundreds of government agencies and the police able to access the records without the need for a court order or suspicion that a defined crime has been committed.

The rights group will also be looking to challenge other aspects of the Snoopers’ Charter, including “bulk and thematic hacking”, which allows the authorities to access users’ devices remotely regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime.

The next is bulk interception of content: the power to read communications and listen in on calls without requiring suspicion of criminal activity; and bulk personal datasets, which allows agencies to acquire mass databases held by public or private sector bodies, which could contain highly personal details on things like religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems.

Liberty director, Martha Spurrier, said she was delighted by the High Court’s decision, arguing that the government needs to focus on closely monitoring terror suspects rather than collecting the population’s data en masse.

“It’s become clearer than ever in recent months that this law is not fit for purpose. The government doesn’t need to spy on the entire population to fight terrorism. All that does is undermine the very rights, freedoms and democracy terrorists seek to destroy,” she added.

“As increasingly frequent hacking attacks bring businesses and public bodies to their knees, our government’s obsession with storing vast amounts of sensitive information about every single one of us looks dangerously irresponsible.”

The full hearing will go ahead if Liberty’s application to cap court costs goes ahead. Its legal challenge is being crowdfunded via CrowdJustice.

A range of legal, privacy and even former NSA experts appeared at the IPA’s committee stage to argue against mass surveillance.

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