EU ruling against 'snooper's charter' could leave Britain at risk of terror attacks, says for MI5 chief
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A European court ruling that threatens new surveillance laws could leave Britain “more vulnerable” to terror attacks, a former spy chief has warned.
Former head of MI5 Lord Evans said the ruling that bulk data collection was unlawful could hamper police power to access communications data in their work with the security services.
Yesterday the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that “indiscriminate” email and call data retention by governments is illegal, and said communications can only be retained to target serious crime.
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The verdict throws the UK Government's Investigatory Powers Act, which became law last month and orders communications providers to mass collect data, into doubt.
The case will now return to the Court of Appeal, which referred to the ECJ for clarification.
Lord Evans said the impact of the ruling on intelligence agencies could be limited because the EU does not have the power to dictate on national security issues.
But he warned it could harm police investigations and the work officers do with MI5, which he suggested could have huge consequences for national security.
“Anything that impacts on their operational effectiveness would be a concern and could leave us more vulnerable to attacks such as those we have seen only too frequently in recent months elsewhere in Europe, including that in Berlin,” he warned.
But Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott argued the existing law was “clearly a blunder” and “a serious erosion of our rights and liberties”.
Writing for Holyrood’s sister site, PoliticsHome, she argued stronger safeguards were required and offered to work with the government on an overhaul of the law.
“Ordinary people are the main victims of both terrorism and organised crime,” she wrote.
“We need to wage a relentless fight against both. But government legislation in this mistakes draconian powers for effective ones.”
The Home Office said it was “disappointed” with the ruling and vowed to put forward "robust arguments" to the Court of Appeal.
It added: "Given the importance of communications data to preventing and detecting crime, we will ensure plans are in place so that the police and other public authorities can continue to acquire such data in a way that is consistent with EU law and our obligation to protect the public."
The Investigatory Powers Act replaces the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which the original case was brought against.
The challenge was launched by Tory then-backbencher David Davis alongside deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, but Davis quietly withdrew from the challenge when he was appointed Brexit Secretary this year.
Before becoming a minister he argued the UK Government was “treating the entire nation as suspects” by ignoring safeguards on the retention and access of personal communications data.
Watson said yesterday that the ruling proved it was "counter-productive to rush new laws through Parliament without proper scrutiny".
“At a time when we face a real and ever-present terrorist threat, the security forces may require access to personal information none of us would normally hand over," he said.
"That's why it's absolutely vital that proper safeguards are put in place to ensure this power is not abused, as it has been in the recent past."