UK surveillance ruled unlawful by Court of Appeal

The extent of the UK government’s surveillance powers is staggering, but it may be forced to scale them back following a ruling they’re unlawful.

Some of the powers in question were introduced as part of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) which was passed into law as emergency legislation in 2014. A couple of years later, the Investigatory Powers Act was enacted which Edward Snowden called 'the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy.'

Labour MP Tom Watson and Conservative MP David Davis first brought the case against DRIPA back in 2014. Davis, who is now Brexit Secretary, removed himself from the case after being promoted from the backbenches to Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet.

In a statement, Watson praised the ruling:

“This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through Parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data.”

The UK government has never settled on its existing powers and continues to push for more. One particular call is for encrypted apps such as Telegram to include ‘backdoors’ for UK intelligence to access. Critics say the very existence of these backdoors leaves a vulnerability to be exploited by hackers.

Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, comments:

“Yet again a UK court has ruled the government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgement tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights.”

Ahead of the ruling, the Home Office announced changes to existing rules including the power for senior police officers to self-authorise surveillance tactics. Instead, requests must be authorised by an investigatory powers commissioner.

Watson and his fellow campaigners say these changes do not go far enough. However, there are many who claim the powers are needed to combat today’s modern threats.

Security Minister Ben Wallace said:

“Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade.

It is often the only way to identify paedophiles involved in online child abuse as it can be used to find where and when these horrendous crimes have taken place.”

Back in June last year, Telecoms reported Australia’s Prime Minister — Malcolm Turnbull — echoed the sentiment from Theresa May about the need for increased online surveillance and the concern about encrypted communications.

What are your thoughts on today’s ruling? Let us know in the comments.

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