UK surveillance legislation ruled unlawful by High Court

17 Jul 2015

The rushed through Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) has been ruled as unlawful by the UK High Court, exactly one year since its inception.

Two MPs challenged DRIPA, with the courts ruling that two sections of the legislation were “incompatible with the British public’s right to respect for private life”, according to Liberty, a human rights lobby that backed the case.

The court declared that section one of DRIPA “does not lay down clear and precise rules providing for access to and use of communications data” and should be “disapplied”.

DRIPA requires communications operators to store for a year all of their customers’ personal communications data, tracking their phone and internet use – this is so a whole swathe of UK officials can have access to it.

It was rushed through in a matter of days, largely in response to the EU Court of Justice’s decision to rule the Union’s data retention directive as invalid at the time.

Basically, there were issues with spying, so spying needed to be done. DRIPA allowed the UK powers to do this.

“The court has recognised what was clear to many last year, that the Government’s hasty and ill-thought-through legislation is fatally flawed,” said David Davis, one of the two MPs to bring the case.

Last summer, he argued that the legislation was driven through the House of Commons with “ridiculous and unnecessary haste” to meet a “completely artificial” emergency.

Now he commends the court’s decision, which has until March next year to be accounted for. “This change will improve both privacy and security, as whilst the Government gave Parliament one day to consider its law, the court has given almost nine months.”

Liberty reports that the ruling on sections 1 and 2 of DRIPA being unlawful are on the basis that:

  • they fail to provide clear and precise rules to ensure data is only accessed for the purpose of preventing and detecting serious offences, or for conducting criminal prosecutions relating to such offences
  • access to data is not authorised by a court or independent body, whose decision could limit access to and use of the data to what is strictly necessary. The ruling observes that: “The need for that approval to be by a judge or official wholly independent of the force or body making the application should not, provided the person responsible is properly trained or experienced, be particularly cumbersome.”

Main image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic