Categorized | Civil Liberties

ECJ Date Retention Ruling Goes Against UK

ECJ Date Retention Ruling Goes Against UK

The Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) overhauls laws governing how the state gathers and retains private communications or other forms of data to combat crime. Broadband and mobile phone providers are compelled to hold a year’s worth of communications data. Known by critics as the snoopers’ charter, there is serious concern about the number of agencies that will get access to the communications data and other privacy issues.

A legal challenge was made to the UK government’s surveillance legislation, initially championed by Brexit Secretary David Davis, who was then a backbench Conservative MP. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, was one of those bringing the case.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has now ruled that indiscriminate collection of emails is illegal, in a judgement that embarrasses the government as it could lead to legal challenges against UK legislation. Only targeted interception of traffic and location data in order to combat serious crime, including terrorism, is justified, according to the ECJ decision. Ministers can no longer be certain that the IPA can survive privacy actions in UK courts.

Davis and Watson, who were supported by Liberty, the Law Society, the Open Rights Group and Privacy International, had already won a high court victory on the issue, but the government appealed and the case was referred by appeal judges to the ECJ. The case will now return to the court of appeal to be resolved in terms of UK legislation.

In a summary of the ruling, the court said electronic communications allow “very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of persons whose data has been retained”, adding “the interference by national legislation that provides for the retention of traffic data and location data with that right must therefore be considered to be particularly serious.”

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said: “Many of us warned that these powers were far too widely drawn. Effectively, they allow for fishing expeditions where data is collected on a vast number of individuals. They also allow for data gathering against anyone suspected of the most minor crimes, not just terrorism and organised crime, and there is insufficient judicial oversight. Targets were not informed.”

Campaign group Liberty, which represented Tom Watson, said: “Today’s judgment upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant. The government must now make urgent changes to the IPA to comply with this.”

Martha Spurrier, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “Today’s judgment upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant. The government must now make urgent changes to the IPA to comply with this.” Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: “Blanket surveillance of our communications is intrusive and unacceptable in a democracy.”

The government said it would not make any changes until the Court of Appeal had ruled on the legal challenge to the legislation, but it would be putting forward “robust arguments” to the Court of Appeal, adding “Given the importance of communications data to preventing and detecting crime, we will ensure plans are in place so that the police and other public authorities can continue to acquire such data in a way that is consistent with EU law and our obligation to protect the public.”

Photo courtesy of Cédric Pulsney

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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