Snoopers Charter now in force, but legal challenge imminent

For internet users in the UK, the Snoopers Charter, officially known as the Investigatory Powers Bill, is now in force. This means that the concept of online privacy in the UK is a thing of the past for most internet users, at least for now.

This means that everything done by anyone in the UK is now recorded and stored for 12 months. The storage is undertaken by both internet service providers (ISPs) and communications apps such as WhatsApp. Despite objections, they are now legally bound to do so and will face stiff penalties if they fail to comply.

RIPA flaws

The new law has replaced the old Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and in doing so handed significantly stronger powers to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. But there are also plenty of other bodies who have surveillance powers thanks to the new Snoopers Charter, as we have touched on before.

As with one of its predecessors, RIPA, this is likely to see the powers employed in a hugely disproportionate manner. Examples which have been frequently cited from the RIPA years include local authorities undertaken surveillance for such issues as barking dogs, feeding pigeons, and even dog fouling.

With the law in place, the best way for UK internet users to ensure that their ISP is not recording everything they do online is to use a good quality VPN such as IPVanish and ExpressVPN. VPN users will only leave a record of their connection to the VPNs server. Any onward connection will not be recorded and therefore internet privacy can be retained.

Legal Challenge

But for those that are despairing that the Snoopers Charter has been passed at all, there is a new hope. We wrote in December about the likelihood of a legal challenge to the new law after a ruling by the European Court of Justice found that the bulk collection of personal communications data was illegal.

That legal challenge has now become a reality. The Human Rights group Liberty have confirmed that they are launching a crowdfunded legal challenge against the new law. The ruling from the European Court of Justice has been the main trigger for this decision.

Liberty has described the powers handed out in the Snoopers Charter as “sweeping state spying powers”. They note that despite the fact that the European Court of Justice has ruled its immediate predecessor, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) 2014, illegal, the Government has “replicated and vastly expanded” its powers in this new law.

Speaking about the decision to launch this legal challenge, the Director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier, said “Last year, this government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history… [It is] an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.”

Her objections are extremely well founded. The Investigatory Powers Act was smuggled through Parliament whilst the debate over Brexit was raging and the opposition party to the Government, Labour, was in complete internal disarray.

The lack of public and political scrutiny received by the Bill meant there was no requirement placed upon the Government to prove the new power were either lawful or necessary.

Liberty is looking to raise £10,000 pounds through crowdfunding to mount the legal challenge, and those who are so inclined can make a contribution here. If the law is allowed to function correctly, it shouldn’t be long before the Snoopers Charter is a distant memory and the Government is forced back to the drawing board.