Why is No Snoopers' Charter important?
Since 2009 the Government has placed obligations on UK service providers to retain communications data (details including who we phone, email and text, location information and much more) for 12 months though a blanket regime.
The Government was hungry for more powers to retain additional data but, in 2013, Liberty’s parliamentary battle against the Super Snoopers’ Charter (the Draft Communications Data Bill) saw victory, with plans to require companies to keep swathes of extra communications data abandoned.
In April this year the Court of Justice of the EU struck down the existing Snoopers’ Charter as a violation of our basic rights and set out the parameters of a proportionate data retention regime, tied to the investigation of serious crime.
However, in early July we learned of the Government’s intention to bring forward emergency legislation, "DRIP", in the remaining days before recess. DRIP not only ignores the judgment of the Court of Justice by re-legislating for blanket retention of communications data. It grants the Government astonishing new powers to pursue its thwarted Super Snoopers’ Charter and expand its interception empire by embroiling private companies in the Temporas of the tomorrow. All this while reassuring the public it is simply maintaining the status quo.
The Government misled us about DRIP, it disregarded the Court of Justice’s judgment and it has treated Parliament with contempt. Our elected representatives had just one day to consider a Bill with huge implications for the nation’s privacy. The Government cries “emergency”: there is none. It has known about the Court judgment since April, but taken no action.
DRIP was rushed onto the statute book in a matter of days. It became law as the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 on 17th July 2014.
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Tell me more about No Snoopers' Charter
LATEST - 6 February 2015: The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has ruled - in a legal case brought Liberty, Privacy International and Amnesty International - that GCHQ acted unlawfully in accessing millions of people's private communications collected in bulk by the USA's National Security Agency. The IPT held that the intelligence-sharing relationship was unlawful prior to December 2014, because rules governing such UK access to NSA mass electronic surveillance programmes were secret. The Tribunal has also found, however, that GCHQ's access to NSA intelligence was lawful from December 2014 onwards. We disagree that the limited safeguards involved are sufficient - and will challenge the decision at the Court of Human Rights. Find out more.
DRIP was published after behind the scenes agreement on its provisions between the three main party leaders. Read Liberty’s briefing on the DRIP Bill here.
Clause 1 of the Bill contains powers for the Government to continue to mandate blanket retention of communications data within the UK for 12 months. This is in direct contradiction of the Court of Justice of the EU’s judgment, delivered in April, which held that blanket indiscriminate retention of such private data breached human rights. The judgment laid out ten criteria for proportionate retention and access to communications data that are ignored in this Bill. The Government has known of the judgment for over three months and cannot justify the 'emergency' it now claims.
Clause 4 of the Bill also contains new and unprecedented powers for the UK to require overseas companies to comply with interception warrants and communications data acquisition requests and build interception capabilities into their products and infrastructure. These provisions will expand existing mass interception powers that are due to be challenged in the British Courts this week. Taken with clause 5, clause 4 also appears to achieve the communications data acquisition powers previously sought through the Super Snoopers' Charter (Draft Communications Data Bill).
The two governing principles of our unconsolidated Constitution are parliamentary sovereignty and the Rule of Law. This Bill disrespects the first principle by containing a programme agreed between party leaders, denying the legislature time for scrutiny, amendment or even proper debate. The Bill shows contempt for second principle by attempting to overrule rather than comply with a Court judgment.
Liberty is representing MPs David Davis and Tom Watson in a legal challenge to DRIP. Find out more.
The Snowden Revelations
In June 2013 the Edward Snowden leaks revealed that GCHQ has access to the transatlantic cables carrying the world’s communications, is intercepting and processing billions of communications every day and sharing the information with the US. This includes recordings of phone calls, content of email messages, social media entries and the history of an internet user's access to websites. All without public acknowledgement.
The project – Tempora – has been in existence since the beginning of 2012. The leaks also suggest that the US authorities have similarly breath-taking and direct access to global communications via the world’s biggest internet companies. This secretive programme is known as PRISM and reports suggest that the UK also accesses this data.
Liberty is pursuing a claim against the British security services for their role in PRISM and Tempora. We will be campaigning for urgent amendment to the outdated laws governing surveillance and an end to blanket surveillance of the population.
Meanwhile the Government paves the way for new interception infrastructures through DRIP.
The Draft Communications Data Bill
The Draft Communications Data Bill (the Snoopers’ Charter) was published by the Home Office on 14th June 2012. It would have required internet and phone companies to retain records of our calls, emails, texts and web visits that they don’t otherwise retain for billing purposes. This Super Snoopers’ Charter was scrutinised by a Cross-Party Committee of Parliamentarians, led by Conservative Peer Lord Blencathra. In a report published in December 2012, the Committee slammed the Bill as an unacceptable infringement of personal privacy: read Liberty’s submission to the Committee here. In May 2013 the Draft Communications Data Bill was notable by its absence from the Queen’s Speech.
It now appears those who failed to make the case for that Bill are attempting to achieve the same objective – but without the inconvenience Parliamentary due process - through DRIP.