The 2016 law, also known as the Snoopers’ Charter, introduced one of the most draconian surveillance regimes of any Western democracy, despite strong public opposition.
Rights groups are celebrating after winning a “landmark” legal case against the UK government over its controversial Investigatory Powers Bill.
Among other things, it required telecoms and internet service providers to store every citizens’ web browsing records for 12 months and provide access to police and intelligence agencies on request. It also empowered police and security services to hack into computers and phones and collect communications data in bulk.
However, on Friday, the High Court ruled in favor of Liberty on a key point, saying that it is illegal for the security services to obtain individuals’ communications data from telecom providers without having prior independent authorization.
If MI5, MI6 and GCHQ now want access to this data – which includes telephone records, text messages, location history and internet browsing history – they must gain approval from an independent authority, such as a judge.
The police are already forced to operate within these same safeguards to personal liberty.
“We all want to have control over our personal information, and to have a government that respects our rights to privacy and freedom of expression. This judgment is a major victory in the fight against mass surveillance,” said Liberty lawyer, Megan Goulding.
“Mass Snoopers surveillance powers do not make us safer, they breach our privacy and undermine core pillars of our democracy. Today represents a huge landmark in reining in mass surveillance powers, and we hope now the government creates proper safeguards that protect our rights.”
The ruling followed another in favor of rights groups back in 2018. At that time, the High Court forced ministers to redraft rules allowing public bodies, including local police forces and financial regulators, to access comms records without authorization.
However, Liberty didn’t get things all its own way. It is planning to appeal against some points the High Court sided with the government on, including whether the bulk powers granted by the law would allow “general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data” which need stronger safeguards.
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