The Government’s appeal against a High Court judgement that ruled its surveillance legislation unlawful contests the July 2015 ruling, which upheld a challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) brought by MPs David Davis and Tom Watson represented by Liberty.
The new Court of Appeal hearing comes as the Government prepares to put similar legislation before Parliament. The forthcoming Draft Investigatory Powers Bill is expected to seek to expand the mass data-gathering powers challenged in this case, states Liberty, “without regard for the lack of safeguards highlighted by the High Court”.
It’s also anticipated that the draft Bill will attempt to enable the tracking of every person’s web and social media use, and strengthen the Security Service’s powers for bulk interception of e-mails, phone calls and other communications.
Liberty comments: “DRIPA was rushed through Parliament in a matter of days in July 2014 by the Coalition Government, with no time for scrutiny and little debate. It allows the Home Secretary to order communications companies to retain communications data for 12 months, and catches the communications records of everyone in the UK – including e-mails, calls, texts and web activity. This applies to MPs, journalists, lawyers, doctors and others whose correspondence may be confidential or privileged.”
The civil liberties and Human Rights-focused organisation adds: “Data retained under DRIPA is then subject to an extremely lax access regime, allowing it to be acquired by hundreds of public authorities who can authorise access themselves for a broad range of reasons that have nothing to do with the investigation of serious crime. Roughly half a million requests are granted each year.”
The High Court found Sections 1 and 2 of the Act breached the British public’s rights to protection of personal data and to respect for private life and communications under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights because:
*they fail to provide clear and precise rules to ensure data is accessed only for preventing, detecting or prosecuting serious crime
*they don’t require data to be authorised by a court or independent body, which could limit access to – and the use of – data to what is strictly necessary
The unlawful sections of DRIPA will remain in force until the end of March 2016, allowing time for the Government to legislate properly. At that point they will cease to have effect.
A growing consensus for change
Liberty supports the role of communications data in solving and preventing crime, but does not believe that justifies the “costly and lengthy” mass retention of records of the entire population.
“The upcoming Draft Investigatory Powers Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Parliamentarians to legislate for proper, transparent safeguards – including a requirement that data only be retained and accessed as part of investigations into serious crime and to prevent death and injury, and that all surveillance requests be authorised by a judge.”
Liberty states that Home Secretary Theresa May has so far “refused to commit to recommendations” for prior judicial approval for surveillance requests, despite the High Court judgement and recommendations from campaigners, MPs across the political spectrum and David Anderson QC, the Government’s own independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation.
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said: “Why will the Home Secretary not respond to the judgement by introducing the safeguards suggested by the High Court? Instead, Theresa May continues her fight against reform, even in the face of a growing consensus among MPs, campaigners and experts in the field that safeguards and judicial oversight are needed.”
David Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, commented: “On 17 July the High Court ruled that the Government’s data retention law is inconsistent with EU law. The ruling reflects the new consensus, even among the security establishment, that judicial authorisation for access to our data is a necessity. By challenging the judgement, the Government is placing itself under unnecessary time pressure, given the generous provision the court granted to bring the law into compliance.”
Davis continued: “The Government’s defeat in July was not a surprise. Concerns over its surveillance powers have been voiced time and again. For some time, the Government has ignored all criticism of these powers and allowed policy in this area to be dictated by the Security Services.”
In conclusion, the MP stressed: “Given the detailed and reasonable recommendations set out in David Anderson QC’s and RUSI’s reports into surveillance, the Government’s time and efforts would be better focused on fixing the current legal framework, which has been branded ‘undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable’ rather than pursuing needless litigation.”