Liberty launches legal challenge to 'state spying' in snooper's charter
campaign group Liberty has launched a crowdfunded legal challenge to the “sweeping state spying powers” in the newly enacted Investigatory Powers Act, which has been dubbed the snooper’s charter.
Liberty is seeking a high court judicial review into the new legislation’s core powers, which include tracking everybody’s web browsing history and hacking computers, phones and tablets “on an industrial scale”.
The group is after more than 206,000 people signed a petition calling for the repeal of the , which reached the statute book last month.
The legal challenge has been triggered by last month’s ruling by the European Union’s court of justice that the of email, text and phone records for access by the state security and police is unlawful.
The EU court of justice ruling declared unlawful the powers contained in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) 2014, which expired on 31 December.
But Liberty say its mass surveillance powers are “replicated and vastly expanded” in the Investigatory Powers Act without any effort to counter the lack of safeguards found unlawful in the European court case. The challenge to Dripa was brought by the Labour party deputy leader, .
Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.
“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”
Spurrier said the Investigatory Powers Act was passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime.
The powers at the heart of the new state surveillance regime to be challenged in the case include:
• bulk hacking – the new legislation empowers police and state agencies to access, control and alter electronic devices, computers, phones and tablets “on an industrial scale”, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime. Liberty say this will leave them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
• bulk interception – the new Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on phone calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity. Bulk interception has to be authorised by ministerial warrant subject to approval by a judicial commissioner.
• bulk acquisition of communications data and internet connection records – the Act requires phone and web companies to hand over 12 months of records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile. Liberty say these powers could provide a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
• bulk personal datasets – the new law allows state agencies to acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. Liberty say these can contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.
The Home Office say the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight.
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has said the new law brings together and updates existing powers while radically overhauling how they are authorised and overseen. It also creates one new power: the introduction of , which will be accessible by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorist attacks and prosecute suspects.