A High Court ruling today in the latest crowd-funded challenge to the government’s powers to monitor electronic communications has left both sides claiming victory. Ruling in Liberty v Home Office, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate ordered the government to amend a provision of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 granting powers to require telecoms operators to store records of communications, including tracking information and web browsing.
The judges found Part 4 of the 2016 act to be incompatible with fundamental rights in EU law because it does not limit the retention of data to the purpose of combating 'serious crime' and because access to retained data is not subject to prior review. 'We have concluded that the legislation must be amended within a reasonable time and that a reasonable time would be 1 November 2018,' the judgment states.
Campaign group Liberty hailed the judgment has a 'landmark victory for privacy rights'. However in its response the Home Office said the government had already conceded that 'aspects' of Part 4 were inconsistent with EU law, 'and has committed to bring forward amendments to remedy these inconsistencies'.
The statement said the judgment as a whole upholds the lawfulness of the data retention regime. Security minister Ben Wallace said: ’We are pleased that the court recognises the importance of communications data in fighting crime and keeping families and communities safe. This sensible, pragmatic judgment rightly balances all the rights of individuals with protecting people’s security. In the 21st century if we are to protect our citizens from threats by paedophiles and terrorists we must have these capabilities.’
Liberty said it would continue to challenge the lawfulness of the act. 'Today’s ruling focuses on just one part of a law that is rotten to the core,' director Martha Spurrier said. 'It still lets the state hack our computers, tablets and phones, Hoover up information about who we speak to, where we go, and what we look at online, and collect profiles of individual people even without any suspicion of criminality.'
The group has opened a crowdfunding campaign to raise £10,000 for what it calls 'People v the Snoopers' Charter: Part II'.
Martin Chamberlain QC, Ben Jaffey QC and David Heaton, instructed by Bhatt Murphy, appeared for the claimant; James Eadie QC, Gerry Facenna QC, Julian Milford and Michael Armitage, instructed by the Government Legal Department, for the defendants.