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The Snoopers' Charter is unlawfully wide, High Court hears

Human rights group Liberty says the Investigatory Powers Act breach citizens’ human rights to privacy and freedom of expression

THE government’s mass surveillance powers – including the interception of the private information of the entire British population – are unlawfully wide, the High Court heard today.

Human rights group Liberty is bringing a second legal challenge against parts of the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) which allow intelligence agencies to obtain and store communications data and take remote control of electronic devices through “bulk hacking.”

Liberty claims that the government’s powers under IPA – dubbed the “Snoopers’ Charter” by critics – are too wide, and therefore breach citizens’ human rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

At the start of a week-long hearing in London today, the group’s barrister Martin Chamberlain QC explained that IPA “provides for a wide expansion of ‘bulk’ secret surveillance powers.”

He said: “These powers permit the interception or obtaining, processing, retention and examination of the private information of very large numbers of – in some cases – the whole population.

“They also permit serious invasions of journalistic and watchdog organisations’ materials and lawyer-client communication.”

He told the court that intelligence agencies could intercept data which “shows, for example, that an individual has accessed a website containing information about sexual health or abortion or suicide,” adding that such information, once stored, “would be searchable without a warrant.”

Mr Chamberlain also pointed to the “inherent dangers” of bulk hacking powers, by which the intelligence services could take “remote control of a device, for example, to turn mobile phones with cameras into recording devices ... or to log keystrokes to capture passwords.”

He warned that vulnerabilities which have been built into software to allow law enforcement access caused “real and significant risks” that third parties could exploit.

Liberty’s case is supported by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which argues that there are insufficient safeguards to protect confidential journalistic sources.

Jude Bunting, representing the NUJ, argued in written submissions that there were “inadequate safeguards” to protect journalistic communications.

He added that this could have “a significant chilling effect on the exchange of information between journalists and their sources.”

Sir James Eadie QC, representing Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, submitted that the powers provided by IPA “strike an appropriate balance between security and individual privacy.”

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