MPs win snooping powers legal challenge

Two Members of Parliament have won a High Court battle over the UK government’s emergency extension of surveillance powers.

David Davis and Tom Watson challenged the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act earlier this year on human rights grounds. The Act was pushed through Parliament in three days last July and allowed spy agencies new powers to gather people’s phone and Internet data. Two judges have now found that the act is “inconsistent with EU law”.

The ruling effectively invalidates aspects of the legislation, although that order has been suspended until next March and the Home Secretary has been granted the right to appeal. Mr Davis, a former Conservative minister and Mr Watson, who is running as a candidate for Labour deputy leader, brought the case in conjunction with campaign group Liberty.

It is highly unusual, perhaps unprecedented, said BBC’s legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman, for MPs to challenge primary legislation in the courts. The two MPs argued that the legislation was rushed, lacks adequate safeguards and must be rethought.

The bill was swiftly adopted by the 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.

Mr Watson said last month: “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,” he said.

Mr Watson added: “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 MPs’ legal challenge comes as proposals are drawn up for a separate Investigatory Powers bill in the new parliament that “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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