High court gives government six months to amend data-retention law

Written by Sam Trendall on 27 April 2018 in News
News

Both the government and human rights group Liberty claim victory after judges agree that the so-called snoopers' charter is incompatible with EU legislation 

Credit: PA Images

The government has six months to amend some of the data-retention measures of the Investigatory Powers Act, following a high court ruling.

A hearing in February at the High Court of Justice saw human-rights group Liberty challenge the government with a claim that posited that the Act, which is often dubbed the snooper’s charter, required a judicial review. The claim was made on the grounds that the act is incompatible with EU Law and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Some months prior to the hearing, the government admitted that the law is “inconsistent with the requirements of EU law in two respects”, according to the judgement published today by Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate.

Firstly, EU laws dictate that authorities should only access retained data in cases related to combating “serious crime”. Secondly, retained data should only be accessed following “prior review by a court or an independent administrative body”, according to European law.

The court agreed that Part 4 of the Investigatory Powers Act – which gives the government the power to compel a telecoms operator to retain communications data – is incompatible with EU legislation on both these counts. 


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Although the government admitted this incompatibility last July, no changes have yet been made to the act. The court’s judgement has given the government until 1 November to make the necessary amendments.

Liberty director Martha Spurrier welcomed today’s judgement, but pledged that her organisation will continue to challenge the law.

“Today’s ruling focuses on just one part of a law that is rotten to the core,” she said. “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.”

For its part, the Home Office claimed that the judgment fell “in favour of the government”. 

The department pointed to the judges’ statement that “we do not think it could possibly be said that the legislation requires, or even permits, a general and indiscriminate retention of communications data”.

Security minister Ben Wallace said: “Liberty has for years created misplaced fear about this legislation, and we are pleased that the court recognises the importance of communications data in fighting crime and keeping families and communities safe.”

He added: “This sensible, pragmatic judgment rightly balances all the rights of individuals with protecting people’s security. In the 21st century, if we are to protect our citizens from threats by paedophiles and terrorists, we must have these capabilities.”

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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