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THE TORY government suffered a humiliating High Court defeat today when it was given just six months to amend its latest Snooper’s Charter.
Civil rights group Liberty hailed a landmark victory for the right to privacy after the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) was found to be incompatible with European law.
Lord Justice Singh ruled that the Act was unlawful because access to retained communications data was not limited to fighting “serious crime” and was not subject to any prior independent review.
He gave the government until November 1 to amend the legislation accordingly.
The Act allows the government to intercept private communications data on such questionable grounds as “protecting public health,” “assessing or collecting any tax” and maintaining “financial stability.”
In July 2017, the government admitted that part 4 of the Act, relating to retention of communications data, was unlawful.
But the government argued that Liberty’s judicial review should be rejected as it was carrying out a consultation with a view to amending the legislation.
Lord Justice Singh ruled that “there is nothing in EU law” which prevented a member state having the kind of retention powers provided by the Act, but he added that its “incompatibility” with European law was a result of “failures to have certain safeguards.”
He said this was “a very important constitutional case” with “vital public interests at stake on each side of the argument,” noting that it covered “relatively uncharted territory” for the English courts.
But Mr Singh rejected Liberty’s argument that the legislation allowed the “general and indiscriminate retention of communications data,” ruling that it included controls to ensure that retention was necessary and proportionate.
Liberty director Martha Spurrier welcomed the court’s decision to declare the Act unlawful, while vowing that legal challenges to other aspects of the legislation would follow.
She said: “Spying on everyone’s internet histories and email, text and phone records with no suspicion of serious criminal activity and no basic protections for our rights undermines everything that’s central to our democracy and freedom.”
The case, the first stage of Liberty’s legal challenge to the Act, was crowdfunded by supporters to the tune of more than £50,000.
The next stage will focus on the government’s power to hack into electronic devices to create vast personal data sets on British citizens.
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