Investigatory Powers Act might be illegal
Bulk collection of people’s emails can’t be justified in a democratic society, according to a European Court of Justice ruling that calls into question the legality of the government’s Investigatory Powers Act.
The EU court’s decision follows a legal challenge by Tom Watson, now deputy leader of the Labour Party, and David Davis, now Brexit Secretary for the Tories, into GCHQ’s bulk snooping on people’s phonecall records and online messages.
Today’s ruling said:
“The fact that the data is retained without the users of electronic communications services being informed of the fact is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.
Consequently, only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference.”
It concluded that ‘legislation prescribing a general and indiscriminate retention of data does not require there to be any relationship between the data which must be retained and a threat to public security’, adding:
“Such national legislation therefore exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society, as required by the directive, read in the light of the charter.”
The case was originally brought to check what EU law says about surveillance following revelations of spying by GCHQ. The Home Office said it was ‘disappointed’ by the ruling and would put ‘robust arguments’ to the court of appeals.
However, with Britain leaving the EU and the Prime Minister saying she wants to pull out of the European Court of Justice, the ruling could end up being moot.
Tom Watson said:
“This ruling shows it’s counter-productive to rush new laws through parliament without proper scrutiny.
Most of us can accept that our privacy may occasionally be compromised in the interests of keeping us safe but no one would consent to giving the police or the government the power to arbitrarily seize our phone records or emails to use as they see fit.”
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“It’s for judges, not ministers, to oversee these powers. I’m pleased the court has upheld the earlier decision of the UK courts.”