The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that existing government digital surveillance practices are unlawful in parts and must be urgently changed.
The ruling found that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) – a previous law covering state surveillance which has been expanded upon with the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 - is unlawful.
The court ruled that the legislation breached British people's rights by collecting internet activity and phone records and letting public bodies like the police and HMRC grant themselves access to these personal details with no suspicion of serious crime and no independent sign-off.
Specifically the court found the legislation unlawful because it:
- Did not restrict access to this data, in the context of the investigation and prosecution of crime, to the purpose of fighting serious crime.
- Let police and public bodies authorise their own access, instead of subjecting access requests to prior authorisation by a court or independent body.
The challenge was brought by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson MP, represented by civil liberties charity Liberty.
Liberty is challenging the latest Investigatory Powers Act in a separate case in the High Court to be heard later this year.
The Home Office announced a series of safeguards to its communications data retention and acquisition regime in November in anticipation of the ruling, including removing the controversial power of self-authorisation for senior police officers.
Martha Spurrier, Liberty's director, said: "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."
Home Office security minister Ben Wallace said: "This judgment relates to legislation which is no longer in force and, crucially, today’s judgement does not change the way in which law enforcement agencies can detect and disrupt crimes.
"We had already announced that we would be amending the Investigatory Powers Act to address the two areas in which the Court of Appeal has found against the previous data retention regime.
"We welcome the fact that the Court of Appeal ruling does not undermine the regime and we will continue to defend these vital powers, which Parliament agreed were necessary in 2016, in ongoing litigation."
Tom Watson MP also said: "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."