The UK government’s plans to surveil the masses deemed unlawful, having severe ramifications for the Snoopers’ Charter

Appeal court judges have ruled that the government’s current mass surveillance methods are unlawful, following a legal challenge brought by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson. The ruling means that the government will need to revise the investigatory powers act (IPA), more commonly known as the “snoopers’ charter”.

Human rights group Liberty, which represented Watson in the case, posted the following on its website: “The Government is breaking the law by collecting the nation’s internet activity and phone records and letting public bodies grant themselves access to these personal details with no suspicion of serious crime and no independent sign-off.”

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The legal challenge was brought against the 2014 Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), which expired in 2016 but was “replicated and vastly expanded” by the IPA. Liberty has also brought a case against the IPA, which will be heard in the High Court later this year.

DRIPA was found to be unlawful in today’s ruling primarily because it does not restrict access to private data to the purpose of fighting “serious crime”. It also lets police and other public bodies authorise their own access, rather than requiring consent from a court or independent body. Effectively, the sweeping powers would give UK authorities almost free reign to surveill almost everyone.

In anticipation of the ruling, Amber Rudd proposed changes to the IPA in November 2017. However, this proposal only partially complied with past court rulings, because it enabled public entities to retain and use personal data relating to phone usage, web history and location data.

“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,” Liberty’s Director, Martha Spurrier, said.

Tom Watson added, “This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through Parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

“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.”

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