The Snoopers' Charter

Our phones, emails and internet history reveal some of our most sensitive thoughts and data – our political views, social networks, religious ideas, medical concerns and sexual interests. But our Government has continued to legalise and expand its powers to snoop on this deeply personal information.

The Investigatory Powers Act – also called “the Snoopers’ Charter” – became law in late 2016. It was intended to introduce transparency to state surveillance following Edward Snowden’s revelations of unlawful mass monitoring of the public’s communications.

Instead it simply legalised the practices he exposed – and introduced hugely intrusive new powers.

It passed in 2016 as Parliament reeled from the EU referendum – despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that the extreme and indiscriminate powers it introduced were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A public petition calling for its repeal attracted more than 200,000 signatures, but was not debated by Parliament.

The Snoopers’ Charter allows the state to hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, and collect the content of people’s digital communications. It also allows the creation and linking of huge ‘bulk personal datasets’.

Even the most confidential communications – like those between doctors and patients – receive very little protection.

This level of intrusion has no place in a democratic society, where we all have the right to protest, speak freely, have a fair trial and access a free press which holds the Government to account. If those in power can monitor our every move, those rights are seriously undermined.

Whistle blowers and other first-hand evidence tells us that the enormous scale of this indiscriminate mass surveillance actually makes it harder for security and law enforcement agencies to do their jobs effectively. And the collection and storage of this sensitive data puts all of us at serious risk from criminals and foreign regimes.

In short, the Government is actually compromising our security.

The People vs the Snoopers’ Charter

In January 2017, Liberty launched a legal challenge – crowdfunded by nearly 2,000 people – to the mass surveillance powers in the new Investigatory Powers Act.

In this first stage of a comprehensive challenge to the law, Liberty focused on government powers to order private companies to store everybody’s communications data, including internet history, so that state agencies can snoop on it.

Liberty argued that retaining every person’s data without limits and safeguards violates the UK public’s right to privacy. 

In a landmark victory for privacy rights, the High Court ruled in April 2018 that part of the Act was indeed unlawful because ministers can issue data retention orders without independent review and authorisation – and for reasons which have nothing to do with investigating serious crime.

This judgment means the Government will now have to amend part of the Snoopers’ Charter so that it no longer breaches people’s rights. The Court has given ministers until Thursday 1 November 2018 to do so.

Find out more about Liberty’s legal challenges to the Snoopers’ Charter.