Theresa May loses EU court ruling on 'Snooper's Charter' in case brought by David Davis
Online crackdown - Photo credit: PA
Theresa May lost a battle in the European Court of Justice today over her so-called Snooper’s Charter law - in a case originally brought by one of her own cabinet ministers.
The ECJ ruled that bulk email and call data retention by governments is unlawful, despite a revised version of the plan reaching the statute book last month.
May introduced the Investigatory Powers Bill in 2014 when she was Home Secretary, but David Davis, who was then a backbencher and is now Brexit Secretary, challenged it in the courts.
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Davis launched his case alongside Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, but he quietly withdrew from the challenge when he joined the Cabinet.
Today’s ruling said EU member states “may not impose a general obligation to retain data on providers of electronic communications services”.
It added that “general and indiscriminate retention” of emails and other electronic communications by governments is illegal and only targeted interception to fight “serious crime” is acceptable.
The Government appealed the issue after the High Court ruled in favour of the two MPs and later revamped the plans in a new law passed last month.
The new plan forces communications providers to retain customer data which can then be accessed by the Government subject to judicial review.
Watson said 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."
He added: “Most of us can accept that our privacy may occasionally be compromised in the interests of keeping us safe but no one would consent to giving the police or the Government the power to arbitrarily seize our phone records or emails to use as they see fit.
"It's for judges, not ministers, to oversee these powers."
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the ruling could have "far-reaching implications" for the latest legislation, and should "force a rethink" by the Prime Minister.
“Many of us warned that these powers were far too widely drawn," she said in a statement.
"Effectively they allow for fishing expeditions where data is collected on a vast number of individuals, hundreds of thousands.
"They also allow for data gathering against anyone suspected of the most minor crimes, not just terrorism and organised crime, and there is insufficient judicial oversight."
Before becoming a minister Davis argued the Government was “treating the entire nation as suspects” by ignoring safeguards on the retention and access of personal communications data.
A summary of today’s ruling read: “With respect to retention, the retained data, taken as a whole, is liable to allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained.
“The interference by national legislation that provides for the retention of traffic data and location data with that right must therefore be considered to be particularly serious.
“The fact that the data is retained without the users of electronic communications services being informed of the fact is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance."
It added: “Consequently, only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference.
“Legislation prescribing a general and indiscriminate retention of data does not require there to be any relationship between the data which must be retained and a threat to public security and is not restricted to, inter alia, providing for retention of data pertaining to a particular time period and/or geographical area and/or a group of persons likely to be involved in a serious crime.
“Such national legislation therefore exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society, as required by the directive, read in the light of the charter.”