A UK court has dealt a winning hand to privacy advocates — and a blow to the mass surveillance state — through its ruling on the controversial Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA).
The ruling, which was issued by three appellate judges, said that DRIPA was “inconsistent with EU law” because it failed to safeguard citizens’ phone records and internet browsing history from unauthorized access by police officers, according to a report in The Guardian.
DRIPA had been passed as “emergency legislation” in 2014 after just a single day of parliamentary debate, and it laid the foundation for its eventual replacement, the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act.
The Snooper’s Charter tried to institute a mass surveillance state
Nicknamed the “snooper’s charter,” the Investigatory Powers Act greatly expanded the government’s ability to spy on its citizens without a warrant, even for purposes other than to solve crimes. What caused much. public outrage was the fact that internet records would need to be stored, and made available to a whole host of government agencies – including many non-law enforcement arms. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden indicted it as “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy.”
The UK has just legalized the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes farther than many autocracies. https://t.co/yvmv8CoHrj
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 17, 2016
Human rights group Liberty argued the case against DRIPA on behalf of Labour MP Tom Watson, who said that the ruling will force the government to curtail the scope of the Investigatory Powers Act.
“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,” he said.
The government, meanwhile, attempted to downplay the ruling as inconsequential since DRIPA is no longer in force. Security minister Ben Wallace defended the mass surveillance regime by arguing that mass surveillance was necessary to prevent terrorism and catch child predators.
“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,” he said.
However, Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said that the ruling was “crystal clear” in its indictment of the mass surveillance regime.
“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,” she said.
“No politician is above the law,” Spurrier concluded. “When will the government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?”