Government puts forward changes to surveillance law in light of ECJ ruling

Written by Sam Trendall on 3 December 2017 in News
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Alterations to so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’ opened for public consultation

The government has launched a consultation into changes to the Investigatory Powers Act that have been proposed in a bid to make the legislation compliant with EU law.

Late last year the European Court of Justice ruled that parts of the act – often informally referred to as the snoopers’ charter – were in contradiction of European law. In response to this, the government has put forward a number of alterations and additions.

These include the proposed establishment of the Office for Communications Data Authorisations, an independent body whose job it will be to authorise – or deny – authorities’ requests to access people’s communications data. The office will be helmed by the UK’s first investigatory powers commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, who was appointed in September.

Among the government’s other proposed changes is the restriction of law enforcement’s use of communications data solely to “investigations into serious crime”. Also being put forward is the imposition of “additional safeguards” before a telecoms or postal operator can be issued with a Data Retention Notice.

The government is also suggesting that the act provides greater clarity to whether, when, and how to inform those whose data has been accessed. The act should also provide “mandatory guidance on the protection of retained data in line with European data-protection standards”, the government said.


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Security minister Ben Wallace said: “Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. Its importance cannot be overstated.”

He added: “As this is an issue of public importance, we consider it important to consult on our proposed changes to inform our legislative response and subsequent parliamentary debate. All responses will be welcomed and carefully considered.”

From now until 11.45pm on 18 January, the government is inviting the public to submit views on the proposed changes. 

Rights advocacy group Liberty has been quick to offer a response, with director Martha Spurrier welcoming the recognition that the act ought to change, but imploring the government to go a lot further.

“It’s encouraging to see the government acknowledge the need to fix a law that breaches people’s rights – but these plans are a cop out,” she said. “The government has defined the ‘serious crime’ exception absurdly broadly – to include crimes punishable by only a few months in prison. It fails to propose the robust system of independent oversight that is so vital to protect our rights and ignores other critical changes demanded by the court.” 

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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