The Court of Appeal has rendered significant parts of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, popularly known as the Snoopers' Charter, unlawful by stating that it allows authorities to retain and access personal data without sufficient oversight.
A new version of the Snoopers' Charter was vastly expanded by the government to give itself more surveillance powers in 2017 but the new law has been struck down by the Court.
Details of the Court of Appeal's findings were released by Liberty, a human rights campaign group which, along with Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, led the challenge against the 2017 version of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act. The new version armed the government with greater surveillance powers than the old law that expired in 2016.
'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,' said Martha Spurrier, Director at Liberty.
'The Government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data. I’m proud to have played my part in safeguarding citizen’s fundamental rights,' said Tom Watson, MP.
According to Liberty, the Court of Appeal agreed that the new law did not restrict access to personal data in any way in the context of the investigation and prosecution of crime. At the same time, it let police and public bodies authorise their own access without obtaining prior approval from the courts or independent bodies.
'[The Act] legalised other unprecedented mass surveillance powers – including mass hacking, spying on phone calls and emails on an industrial scale and collecting huge databases containing sensitive information on millions of people,' Liberty noted.
The Snoopers' Charter, because of its draconian nature, has drawn the ire of the general public, security experts, privacy & human rights groups, various politicians, and the Information Commissioner's Office.
When the Investigatory Powers Bill was introduced in 2016, the ICO made it known that it was not in favour of how the Bill allowed the government to weaken encryption so that it could carry out meaningful surveillance of individuals.
'Weakening encryption can have significant consequences for individuals. The constant stream of security breaches only serves to highlight how important encryption is towards safeguarding personal information. Weakened encryption safeguards could be exploited by hackers and nation states intent on harming the UK’s interests,' it said.
Last year, Alistair Carmichael, a Lib Dem MP, said that the Snoopers' Charter came straight out of an Orwellian nightmare. 'The security services need to be able to keep people safe, but these powers are straight out of an Orwellian nightmare. They have no place in an open and democratic society, will cost billions of taxpayers' money and simply will not work,' he said.
Commenting on the recent ruling by the Court of Appeal, Lee Munson, Security Researcher at Comparitech.com, said that it comes as extremely good news for every law-abiding and privacy-conscious citizen in the UK.
'The common-sense approach taken by the judges will ensure that the most contentious part of the “snooper’s charter” – the carte blanche ability to collect data with neither a warrant nor oversight – will have to be swiftly removed.
'While no-one in their right mind would argue against surveillance of legitimate terrorist and criminal targets, this Act went way too far in casting a dragnet over ordinary citizens while failing to address the fact that the bad guys are actually quite adept at using technology, such as encryption, that the Bill simply cannot legislate against.
'Talking of which, it will be interesting to see how a rewrite of the Investigatory Powers Act affects the government’s views on technology and its obsession with backdoors, not to mention its lack of understanding of either,' he said.