‘Snoopers Charter’ does not breach human rights, High Court says

The High Court has rejected a challenge against the Government’s Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), or “Snoopers’ Charter”, ruling that the range of “interlocking safeguards” meant the Act did not breach human rights law.

Liberty, which challenges social injustices in the UK, claimed that parts of the IPA were unlawfully wide and breach citizens’ human rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

The bill first entered UK law in November 2016 and mandates that communications firms store data relating to what sites a device connects to, while allowing agencies like MI5 and GCHQ access to much of this data.

In their ruling, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate dismissed Liberty’s claim saying: “We have reached the conclusion that the safeguards in (IPA) are sufficient to prevent the risk of abuse of discretionary power and the Act is therefore not incompatible with the (European Convention on Human Rights) on the ground that it does not comply with the concept of law.”

Liberty’s case was supported by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which argued that there are insufficient safeguards to protect confidential journalistic sources. However, in its judgment, the High Court ruled that IPA did not breach journalists’ freedom of expression “in so far as it is suggested that there are inadequate protections for journalistic material”.

Liberty’s lawyer Megan Goulding said she was disappointed as the judgment “allows the government to continue to spy on every one of us, violating our rights to privacy and free expression.

“We will challenge this judgment in the courts, and keep fighting for a targeted surveillance regime that respects our rights,” she added. “These bulk surveillance powers allow the state to hoover up the messages, calls and web history of hordes of ordinary people who are not suspected of any wrong-doing.

“The Court recognised the seriousness of MI5’s unlawful handling of our data, which only emerged as a result of this litigation. The security services have shown that they cannot be trusted to keep our data safe and respect our rights.”

At a hearing in June, Liberty’s barrister, Martin Chamberlain QC, told the court that IPA “provides for a wide expansion of ‘bulk’ secret surveillance powers”.

He added: “These powers permit the interception or obtaining, processing, retention and examination of the private information of very large numbers of people - in some cases, the whole population. They also permit serious invasions of journalistic and watchdog organisations’ materials and lawyer-client communication.”

Sir James Eadie QC, representing Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, submitted that the powers provided by IPA “strike an appropriate balance between security and individual privacy”, and were of “critical importance to, and are effective in securing, the protection of the public”.

Meanwhile, controversies have also been ramping up around the use of facial recognition technology by local police forces: a further issue on which Liberty has been vocally opposed. Earlier this month Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham warned that there remain significant issues around privacy in police trials of the technology. 

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