A legal challenge against the UK Government’s Investigatory Powers Act, better known as the Snoopers Charter, has been dismissed in the High Court.
But human rights group Liberty, which brought the case, has pledged to appeal the ruling setting up a further legal showdown that could last for months, if not years.
They claim that the decision in the case has handed the government the right “to spy on every one of us”.
Claim of lack of safeguards dismissed
The Snoopers Charter has faced a number of legal challenges since it first came into force back in 2017. But Liberty’s challenge is one of the most comprehensive.
They argued that the powers given to the Government and its agencies by the Snoopers Charter are much too broad and therefore breach the rights of UK citizens to privacy and freedom of expression.
Under the Investigatory Powers Act, intelligence agencies are allowed to collect and store all communications data from every British citizen for a period of twelve months. They are also permitted to undertake ‘bulk hacking’ which means they can take remote control of any electronic device they deem fit.
This power allows them to take over mobile devices and use the cameras and microphones as recording devices. It would also allow them to log keystrokes and therefore access passwords to private accounts and potentially encrypted communications.
Liberty argued in court that these wide-ranging powers were incompatible with human rights law and that there were insufficient safeguards in place to prevent abuse of power by the government and the large number of agencies permitted to use the new powers.
But in their judgement, which was handed down yesterday, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate rejected Liberty’s claims. They decided that there were sufficient safeguards in the Investigatory Powers Act to protect citizens “against the possible abuse of power”.
They, therefore, concluded that the Snoopers Charter was compatible with Human Rights laws. Interestingly, the judges made particular reference to the recent ruling that MI5 had been storing private data illegally for years.
They acknowledged that the intelligence agencies lax handling of data was a concern but stated that it didn’t change their overall ruling.
Liberty pledges to appeal
Megan Goulding, a lawyer working for Liberty described the ruling as a “disappointing judgement” and argued that it allowed the government to continue “to spy on every one of us, violating our rights to privacy and free expression.”
She committed Liberty to appealing the ruling saying that the organisation was committed to “keep fighting for a targeted surveillance regime that respects our rights.”
“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 wrongdoing,” she explained. She is absolutely right.
The Government’s QC in this case, Sir James Eadie, arguing that the powers given to intelligence agencies and other government bodies in the Snoopers Charter strike “an appropriate balance between security and individual privacy”.
But, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the UK now has the most intrusive surveillance regime anywhere in the free world.
While the government has presented no tangible evidence of the new powers on their own preventing any notable threat of terrorism or any other public security incident, they continue to intrude into the life of every law-abiding British citizen on a daily basis.
How to stay safe from excessive Government surveillance
It is vital that campaign groups like Liberty continue to use every possible legal avenue to challenge these threats to our basic human rights.
It is to be hoped that with a new administration in place and a new Home Secretary in Priti Patel who has a solid record on civil liberties, the Government’s position on these laws might change.
But this is by no means certain which is why the work of groups like Liberty is so important. They will not win every case but they will never give up especially when they believe they have a strong case.
For individual internet users, this means that the Investigatory Powers Act will remain in place for the time being and your internet activity will continue to be routinely recorded by your ISP and handed over to any government agencies that ask for it.
This stops your ISP from seeing what you are doing online and what websites you are connecting too. In other words, they have little tangible information to hand over to the government even if they ask for it.
It shouldn’t be necessary to have to use a VPN like ExpressVPN to keep your data private and secure online. But in the UK, just like in countries like Communist China, Russia, and Iran, for now at least, it is.