UK Government proposes changes to surveillance law in light of European Court of Justice ruling

Written by Sam Trendall on 8 December 2017 in News

A public consultation has been launched on alterations to so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’

Man dialing phone - Image credit: Fotolia

The UK Government is consulting on changes to the Investigatory Powers Act, which have been proposed in a bid to make the legislation compliant with EU law.

Late last year the European Court of Justice ruled that parts of the act – often informally referred to as the snoopers’ charter – were in contradiction of European law.

In response to this, the UK Government has put forward a number of alterations and additions.

These include the proposed establishment of the Office for Communications Data Authorisations, an independent body whose job it will be to authorise – or deny – authorities’ requests to access people’s communications data.

The office will be led by the UK’s first investigatory powers commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, who was appointed in September.

Among the UK Government’s other proposed changes is the restriction of law enforcement’s use of communications data solely to “investigations into serious crime”.

Also being put forward is the imposition of “additional safeguards” before a telecoms or postal operator can be issued with a data retention notice.

The UK Government is also suggesting that the act provides greater clarity to whether, when, and how to inform those whose data has been accessed.

The act should also provide “mandatory guidance on the protection of retained data in line with European data-protection standards”, the UK Government said.

Security minister Ben Wallace said: “Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. Its importance cannot be overstated.”

He added: “As this is an issue of public importance, we consider it important to consult on our proposed changes to inform our legislative response and subsequent parliamentary debate. All responses will be welcomed and carefully considered.”

Rights advocacy group Liberty welcomed the recognition that the act ought to change, but called on the UK Government to go a lot further.

Liberty director Martha Spurrier said: “It’s encouraging to see the government acknowledge the need to fix a law that breaches people’s rights – but these plans are a cop out.

“The government has defined the ‘serious crime’ exception absurdly broadly – to include crimes punishable by only a few months in prison.

“It fails to propose the robust system of independent oversight that is so vital to protect our rights and ignores other critical changes demanded by the court.”

The consultation on the changes will run until 18 January. 

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