High Court challenge against so-called snoopers’ charter
Human rights campaign group Liberty says the ‘snoopers’ charter’ is an extreme surveillance regime and wants the court to rule against it.
The Government’s latest mass surveillance powers face a landmark legal challenge at the High Court.
Human rights campaign group Liberty is challenging the Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the snoopers’ charter by critics who say it allows police and security services to “spy on citizens”, in London on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the group will argue that Government powers to order private companies to store everyone’s communications data and internet history, so it can be accessed by state agencies, violates the public’s right to privacy.
The case follows a ruling by the Appeal Court last month against previous surveillance rules in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa), which expired at the end of 2016.
Three senior judges concluded Dripa was “inconsistent” with European Union law following a challenge by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and campaigners, which was supported by Liberty.
Liberty claims its replacement not only replicates but “vastly expands” mass surveillance powers.
The group says the new act allows the storage of and access to data with no independent authorisation and for purposes extended “far beyond serious crime” and for reasons that have nothing to do with investigating terrorism.
We got the Investigatory Powers Act, the most invasive surveillance regime of any democracy in the world Liberty director Martha Spurrier
Director Martha Spurrier said: “There’s no doubt police and security agencies need tools to tackle serious crime in the digital age – that’s why Liberty spent years campaigning for new surveillance legislation to keep us safe, protect our rights and safeguard our personal data.
“Instead we got the Investigatory Powers Act, the most invasive surveillance regime of any democracy in the world.
“It introduced staggering state spying powers that give the Government access to everybody’s web histories, email, text and phone records.
“It’s made us less safe and less free – undermining our privacy, free press, free speech, protest rights, protections for journalists’ sources and whistle-blowers and legal and patient confidentiality.
“Our message to the Government is straightforward – you’re not above the law.
“Stop ignoring the courts, stop knowingly violating people’s rights and get on with building a targeted surveillance system that protects our safety, our cyber-security and our rights.”
The legal challenge, which will be heard by Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate on Tuesday and Wednesday, has been crowdfunded by supporters who raised £50,000.
The Government is defending the case and says the powers are “necessary and proportionate”.
Security Minister Ben Wallace said: “Communications data saves lives and we have built and fine-tuned a system which ensures its retention and use is proportionate – protecting our privacy while keeping us all safe and secure.
“Liberty would like to imply we require all telecommunications operators to retain all data.
“This is simply not true: not all communications data is retained, and of that only a small fraction of that is ever accessed.
“I see the value of communications data every day as it is used to protect the public from the very worst criminals and ensure justice is done for victims.
“It is used in 95% of serious and organised crime prosecutions handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.
“We find ourselves in court today, again, defending these crucial powers; but let me be clear these are necessary and proportionate powers.
“We will continue to defend them to fulfil our duty to keep the public safe.”