The Investigatory Powers Act is the most intrusive mass surveillance regime ever introduced in a democracy.
It gives the authorities the power to collect information about everything we do and say online, on our mobiles and computers, by tapping directly into communications channels, ordering companies to hold on to our data and hacking into people’s devices.
Without any suspicion of wrongdoing, agencies can store and search our web history, records showing where we go with our mobiles, and who we call, email and text. This kind of information paints an incredibly detailed picture of who we are, who we talk to, where we go and what we think.
It reveals our health problems, our political views, our religious beliefs, our sexual preferences, our daily habits and our every movement.
Hundreds of public bodies, from financial regulators to ambulance trusts, can dip into this data – for reasons that have nothing to do with investigating crime.
Spying on every single one of us doesn't make us any safer.
By storing all our sensitive personal information and exploiting vulnerabilities in software meant to keep our data safe, the Government is creating a goldmine for criminal hackers and foreign spies – at a time when they’re regularly bringing public services and private companies to their knees.
And by stripping away our privacy, they’re undermining everything that keeps us free – our free expression, our right to protest and to fair trials, our legal and patient confidentiality, our free press.
These powers have already been ruled unlawful by Europe’s highest court and the UK’s Court of Appeal. But the Government hasn’t changed anything.
This is a watershed moment for our rights. Which is why we’re taking the Home Secretary to court.
We need a targeted surveillance law that keeps us safe, protects our right and safeguards our personal data.
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About the Investigatory Powers Act
The Investigatory Powers Act was intended to introduce transparency to and regulate state surveillance following Edward Snowden’s revelations of unlawful mass monitoring of the public’s communications.
Instead it legalised many of the eye-watering practices he exposed – and introduced hugely intrusive new powers.
It passed in 2016 in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition and as Parliament reeled from the EU referendum – despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that the extreme indiscriminate powers it introduced were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime.
Experts including tech specialists, security chiefs and former senior spies said the new law would put our cybersecurity at risk and undermine our rights without making us safer – but the Government didn’t listen.
More than 200,000 people signed a petition calling for the Act’s repeal – but this wasn’t debated by Parliament.
Liberty's Legal Challenge to the Act
Liberty is challenging the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:
• Bulk retention of everybody’s communications data and internet history – the Act forces communications companies and service providers to keep records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and web browsing history for state agencies to store, data-mine and profile.
• Bulk hacking – the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, even when their owners aren’t suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
• Bulk interception – the Act lets the state read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.
• “Bulk personal datasets” – the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.
There’s no doubt that the Government and security agencies need surveillance powers to address the changing ways we live our lives in the 21st century.
But there’s no evidence that harvesting huge vats of sensitive personal information about every one of us helps face those challenges.
Instead of throwing away the freedom and fundamental rights our country is so proud of, the Government must build a responsible and effective targeted surveillance system that would let them monitor those they need to – without building goldmines full of population-level personal details on all of us.