Government Places Limits on Snooper’s Charter

snooper's charter

The UK Government is proposing limitations to the Snooper’s Charter after a European Court found that some of its provisions were ‘inconsistent’ with EU law.

Back in early September, DIGIT noted the creation of the Investigatory Powers Commission (IPCO). Since its launch the IPCO’s role has been to ‘watch the Watchmen’ – to ensure that the Government’s monitoring activities operate within the bounds of the law.

The body was created in response to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which extended the surveillance capabilities of the state’s spying bodies. The number of organisations affected by the change was vast and ranged from domestic police to operations of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

But now the government has proposed changes to the IPA, after accepting that some of its provisions are ‘inconsistent with EU law’. The changes follow a decision made by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) one year ago in December 2016. The government has since created a public consultation, allowing citizens to submit comments on the proposed changes, open until the 18th of January.

The UK Government has conceded to the CJEU that the IPA conflicted with European Law on the two following grounds:

  • that law enforcement did not need to seek independent permission to access stored communications data
  • collecting communications data was a tactic not only reserved for the most serious crimes

And to address those concerns, the government has proposed:

  • that offences which carry a potential prison sentence of six months or more should be considered ‘serious’ enough crimes to permit the collection of data
  • that communications data will not be gathered for other purposes, such as public health, collecting taxes or regulating financial markets
  • creating an Office for Communications Data Authorisations (OCDA) that could authorise or decline law enforcement requests for data

Civil liberties organisation the Open Rights Group has described the move as a ‘major victory’, but claims the Government has remained stalwart on controversial issues surrounding the collection and handling of data. The ORG also notes that the Government has not promised to keep data within the EU, presumably to enable it to share information with the USA.

In a blog post, the ORG noted: “Adding independent authorisation for communications data requests will make the police more effective, as corruption and abuse will be harder. Nevertheless, the government has disregarded many key elements of the judgment.

“The Home Office thinks it is playing a long game, hoping that courts will adjust their views over time, and that we will all get used to privacy being an increasingly theoretical idea. The truth is that privacy becomes a more necessary principle everyday, in the surveillance economy. We are all in need of greater privacy, so will find ourselves valuing it more.”

The public has until 18th January to submit comments on the proposals to the Government.

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