High Court rules DRIP Act surveillance illegal

July 17, 2015 // 11:36 a.m.

Tags: #cjeu #david-davis #drip #drip-act #drip-bill #eu #government #human-rights #open-rights-group #privacy #tom-watson

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), rushed through Parliament as an emergency measure last year, has been declared unlawful by the High Court.

In July 2014, the UK government passed the DRIP bill with a landslide vote, having claimed that a European Court of Justice ruling against the UK's mass data retention activities put citizens at risk of terrorism. Rushed through in a matter of days, the bill - now an Act - drew considerable criticism. 'None of your MPs have even read this legislation,' Tom Watson MP claimed at the time, 'let alone been able to scrutinise it.'

Watson teamed up with David Davis MP to seek a repeal of DRIPA, while the Open Rights group stated its intention to sue over what it claimed was an illegal breach of citizen's privacy.

Now, Watson and Davis have been successful: the High Court has agreed that Sections 1 and 2 of the DRIPA are incompatible with the respect for privacy life and communications and protection of personal data afforded to all citizens under Articles 7 and 9 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In its finding, the court claimed that DRIPA fails 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,' and that '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 Government was warned that rushing through important security legislation would end up with botched law. Now the High Court has said they must come back to Parliament and do it properly,' crowed Watson of his victory. 'The Government gave MPs one day to discuss the legislation which was wrongly represented as respectful of people's right to privacy: it has until March 2016 to make sure that the law is re-written. There must be independent oversight of the Government's data-collection powers and there must be a proper framework and rules on the use and access of citizens' communications data.'

'The court has recognised what was clear to many last year, that the Government’s hasty and ill-thought through legislation is fatally flawed. They will now have to rewrite the law to require judicial or independent approval before accessing innocent people’s data, reflecting the new consensus amongst experts in the Anderson and RUSI reports,' added Davis. '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.'

Others have not hailed the ruling as a complete victory, however. The Open Rights Group has issued a statement claiming that 'while ORG welcomes Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Collins’s judgement, we disagree with their interpretation of the CJEU [Court of Justice of the EU] ruling. They claim that this ruling did not seek to constrain the retention of communications data. ORG disagrees. We believe that the CJEU was clear that blanket data retention severely interferes with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.'

The DRIPA is to remain in effect until March 2016, whereupon its properly-debated replacement will take force.
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