Mass surveillance and Snoopers' Charter

Legal challenge: Investigatory Powers Act

We’re in the middle of a case against the Government because its Investigatory Powers Act (the Snoopers’ Charter) gives the police and security services powers to spy on everyone whether or not we’re suspected of wrongdoing.

We’re arguing these ‘bulk powers’ violate rights to privacy and freedom of expression, because there are insufficient safeguards in the Act, including to protect confidential journalistic sources and legal material.

In April 2018, the High Court said the Act was incompatible with EU law in the way that it allowed state agencies to access data held by telecommunications operators, and the Act was amended.

But in June 2019, the Court said the ‘bulk powers’ don’t breach privacy and free expression rights and the Act does contain sufficient safeguards for journalistic and legal communications.

We are appealing against that June 2019 judgement.

In October 2020, the EU Court of Justice gave its judgment in a related surveillance case brought by Privacy International. The Court ruled against the UK Government, finding that mass data collection and retention practices must comply with EU privacy safeguards.

In June 2022, in our case, the High Court of Justice ruled that it is unlawful for the security services – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – to obtain individuals’ communications data from telecom providers without having prior independent authorisation, when those bodies are carrying out criminal investigations.

And in July 2022 Liberty were given permission to appeal on certain points decided against it in the June 2022 High Court judgment, including:

  • Whether the bulk powers in the IPA permit indiscriminate and generalised data collection and thus require a higher level of safeguards
  • Whether prior independent authorisation is required each time state agencies look at our data that they have stored.

Liberty’s wider case against the IPA (the appeal against the June 2019 judgment) also continues before the Court of Appeal, for which Liberty already has permission to proceed on five out of its six grounds.

The Court of Appeal will hear all of Liberty’s points of appeal (against the June 2019 and the June 2022 judgments) together 9-11 May 2023.

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