UK High Court declares emergency surveillance bill unlawful

On Friday, the UK High Court has declared Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) unlawful.

DRIPA is an emergency legislation signed into law in July 2014, and its main goal was to allow UK security services to continue to have access to customers’ phone and internet records, after that possibility was shot down by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

DRIPA was rushed through the UK Parliament, and from the very beginning there was a very vocal opposition to it, including a number of MPs, privacy and human rights organizations.

This successful judicial challenge of the law was mounted by, among others, the Conservative MP David Davis and the Labour MP Tom Watson, the Open Rights Group, Privacy International, and the Law Society of England and Wales.

The High Court found that sections 1 and 2 of DRIPA were unlawful, because they didn’t clearly define the rules for data access so that it is only accessed when the goal is to detect and prevent precisely defined serious offences; and they don’t require a court or an independent administrative body to review and authorise the authorities’ requests for access to data, in order to make sure that it’s reasonable.

The two sections will stay in force until March 2016, by which date the court ordered the Parliament to rewrite them.

Davis commented that the current law allows the police and other agencies too easy access to everyone’s data, as access can simply be approved by various politicians.

“The government gave parliament one day to pass this legislation. This court has given the government nine months to sort it out. It’s the right judgment. It’s a measured judgment. It gives no risk to security because the government has plenty of time to sort it out. What this reflects is the emerging consensus in the last few weeks that prior judicial approval [of intercepting communications] is needed,” he added.

The Government can appeal the decision, and according to John Hayes, the Home Office security minister, they will. “Communications data is not just crucial in the investigation of serious crime. It is also a fundamental part of investigating other crimes which still have a severe impact, such as stalking and harassment, as well as locating missing people, including vulnerable people who have threatened to commit suicide,” he pointed out.

The High Court’s decision was welcomed by human rights groups, and they are hoping that this will be an opportunity for the Parliament to introduce a surveillance law that is effective, but also mindful of human rights.

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