Mass surveillance and Snoopers' Charter

Liberty vs The Snoopers’ Charter Explainer

Posted on 10 May 2023

Find out more about our latest hearing in the Court of Appeal

What’s the case about?

We are back in the Court of Appeal for the next stage of our case against the Government and its Investigatory Powers Act (the Snoopers’ Charter), which gives state bodies like the police and security services powers to spy on everyone whether or not we’re suspected of wrongdoing.

For nearly a decade, we have been engaged in multiple legal actions against the Government and security services as we seek to protect everyone’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

This time, we’re appealing three past judgments – one from April 2018, one from June 2019, and one from June 2022 – because we still don’t think the safeguards in the Act are good enough to protect our rights.

Bulk powers under the Act mean that we are all at risk of having our calls, text messages, internet history and other data collected and stored by state bodies like the police and security services. This is particularly worrying for journalists and lawyers whose jobs rely on confidential information.

What are we arguing?

The Act does not protect journalistic and watchdog materials

The Act does not have strong enough safeguards around how state bodies search or store journalistic materials. This puts communications between journalists and their sources and other confidential journalistic material at risk – and undermines the free press which is central to our democracy.

The Act does not protect lawyer-client communications

Similarly, certain vital safeguards which would limit how state bodies can search or store lawyer-client communications are missing. This undermines lawyer-client confidentiality, and the ability of people to bring legal cases which are in the public interest.

The Act does not protect the UK population

The Act does not contain good enough safeguards to protect the public from the extent of its bulk powers, which allow for huge amounts of data to be accessed and stored.

Why should we be worried?

The state’s mass surveillance powers do not make us safer – they threaten our privacy and freedom of expression, and undermine our democracy.

We all want to have control over our personal information, and for the Government to respect our rights. But these bulk surveillance powers allow the state to hoover up the messages, calls, internet history and more of millions of people.

The lack of proper safeguards around these powers leaves journalists and lawyers particularly exposed to state spying – undermining core pillars of our democracy.

What are we calling for?

In our appeal, we are asking the Court of Appeal to declare that the Act is unlawful as it fails to protect our rights.

More generally, to prevent ongoing abuse of power against all of us we need a surveillance regime which is targeted, proportionate and heavily restricted.

What’s the background?

For many years we have been engaged in multiple legal actions against the Government’s mass surveillance regime.

During that time we have exposed that for years MI5 failed to follow surveillance safeguards and inform its oversight bodies about its law-breaking. The Home Office also failed for years to identify and investigate MI5’s law-breaking.

The European Court of Human Rights also ruled in another of our cases that the previous UK surveillance regime before the Investigatory Powers Act contained insufficient safeguards and breached our rights.

In Liberty’s case against the Investigatory Powers Act, the courts have already ruled that the Act’s safeguards were inadequate, and the Government has had to amend the Act.

And ahead of today’s hearing, the Government has already conceded that the Act is still unlawful and needs to be amended to tighten protections for journalists.

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