UK surveillance laws challenged by MPs in court

Two MPs are taking to the High Court a legal challenge to the government’s emergency extension of surveillance powers on human rights grounds.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act was pushed through Parliament in three days last July, and allowed spy agencies new powers to gather people’s phone and internet communications data.

But now former Conservative minister David Davis MP, and Tom Watson MP, who is running as a candidate for Labour deputy leader, will argue that the legislation is incompatible with human rights.

The bill was swiftly adopted by then-coalition government following a ruling by the European Union’s Court of Justice invalidating its existing powers.

Signing a bill into law usually takes weeks or months, but there are well-established procedures for fast-tracking legislation when MPs believe it necessary.

Individuals and organisations have the power to challenge such moves and seek judicial reviews of any decision made by a public body on the grounds it has been made unlawfully.

At the time ministers argued the act would maintain existing powers – communication companies could retain data for 12 months in case it was needed by government agencies or police, and would act as guards against terrorism.

But critics have claimed the extensions are incompatible with existing human rights laws and should be forbidden.

Davis and Watson said the legislation should be re-thought as it doesn’t adhere to both the Human Rights Act and the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Watson said in a statement: “The government's decision to use emergency powers to enable it to spy on citizens shows the rights of the individual need to be strengthened to ensure the state can't act with impunity.

“Even MPs are powerless to prevent such powers being enacted.”

“The Human Rights Act allows us to challenge those powers in the courts but the Tory government is intent on tearing up the Act and doing away with the limited legal protection it affords.

“It is vital that we fight for it to be retained.”

The High Court hearing is expected to spread over two days, but it will take a few months until the verdict.

The MPs' legal challenge comes as proposals are drawn up for a separate Investigatory Powers bill in the new parliament. It also follows a reduction in powers of the National Security Agency in the US after President Barack Obama signed a bill into law this week.

Downing Street said the new legislation “will modernise the law on communication data”.

A similar bill, dubbed a “snooper’s charter”, was shelved in 2013 after opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

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