“Snoopers’ Charter” dealt serious blow by EU’s highest court
The EU’s highest court has ruled that “general and indiscriminate retention” of emails and communications by governments is illegal, raising the prospect for the Investigatory Powers Act – dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter – to face a surge of legal challenges.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that only targeted information gathering is justified for state surveillance. This comes in response to a legal challenge originally brought by Brexit secretary David Davis – when he was a backbench MP – and Labour’s Tom Watson, over the legality of GCHQ’s bulk collection of personal data.
The finding comes in the wake of the Investigatory Powers Act becoming law, and the clarification of EU standards raises the possibility of legal challenges to be raised against the new domestic legislation.
Watson said the ruling “shows it’s counter-productive to rush new laws through parliament without a 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.
“It’s for judges, not ministers, to oversee these powers. I’m pleased the court has upheld the earlier decision of the UK courts.”
Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, called the ruling “the first serious post-referendum test for our government’s commitment to protecting human rights and the rule of law.
“Today’s judgement upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant.
“The government must now make urgent changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to comply with this.
“The UK may have voted to leave the EU – but we didn’t vote to abandon our rights and freedoms.”
The Home Office has responded, saying it “will be considering its potential implications”, but that it will appeal the decision.
“Given the importance of communications data to preventing and detecting crime, we will ensure plans are in place so that the police and other public authorities can continue to acquire such data in a way that is consistent with EU law and our obligation to protect the public,” said a spokesperson.
In a summary of the ruling, the ECJ said: “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 and is not restricted to, inter alia, providing for retention of data pertaining to a particular time period and/or geographical area and/or a group of persons likely to be involved in a serious crime.
“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.”