Campaigning for an end to blanket surveillance of the entire population.

Why is No Snoopers' Charter - Stop Comms Data Bill important?

Liberty first started the No Snoopers' Charter campaign in 2012 in response to the Draft Communications Data Bill 2012. Find out more below.

Liberty is currently campaigning on the Investigatory Powers Bill 2016 here.

No Snoopers’ Charter is Liberty’s campaign calling for an end to blanket surveillance of the entire population.

We take no issue with the use of intrusive surveillance powers per se – targeted surveillance can play an important part in preventing and detecting serious crime.

But the current regime just doesn’t provide sufficient safeguards to ensure that such surveillance is conducted lawfully, and in a necessary and proportionate way.

So we’ve launched a number of legal cases in the Courts – challenging both the activities of the British intelligence services, as unearthed by the Edward Snowden revelations; and the Government’s “emergency” surveillance law, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA).

The Snowden leaks and our subsequent legal cases show how far we've moved from a model whereby those under suspicion are targeted and innocent people are left free from state intrusion - and that the public and politicians alike were previously unaware of the extent of blanket surveillance.

Such blanket surveillance of the population at large transforms us from a nation of citizens into a nation of suspects. 

The inadequacy of our surveillance laws - and the need for both online and offline reform - has been laid bare.  Urgent amendment of our outdated framework is more pressing than ever.

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Tell me more about No Snoopers' Charter - Stop Comms Data Bill

The Snowden revelations

In June 2013 the 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 phone calls, emails, social media postings, and internet searches – 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 breathtaking 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.

Security Services held to account over blanket surveillance

Liberty – together with Privacy International and Amnesty International –  is pursuing a claim against the British security services for their role in PRISM and Tempora.  In February, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) held that GCHQ did indeed act unlawfully by accessing millions of private communications, as collected in bulk in the US, prior to December 2014 – because until then rules governing the UK’s access to such communications were kept secret.  It was the first time the Tribunal has found against the intelligence services in the court’s 15-year history.

However, the IPT also decided that UK and US intelligence sharing was lawful from December 2014 onwards – because those previously secretive rules have now been made public (which only happened thanks to our legal case).  We don’t agree that the limited safeguards revealed are enough to make such activities lawful, and compliant with human rights law, so we’re challenging the decision at the European Court of Human Rights.

GCHQ intercepts communications of international human rights groups

As well as that first case, we launched another claim in the IPT – on behalf of our international partners – in response to the Snowden revelations, arguing that British intelligence services have monitored those organisations’ private communications.

In June 2015, in another victory for the battle against blanket surveillance, the IPT ruled that GCHQ has unlawfully intercepted and accessed the private communications of two of those groups – Amnesty International; and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in South Africa.

While the IPT may not have made any determinations in favour of the other claimants, that doesn’t mean their private communications weren’t intercepted and examined – only that, if GCHQ did so, the Tribunal thinks it did so lawfully.

This judgment follows the admission by the security services in 2014, in Abdel Hakim Belhadj's challenge in the IPT, that legally privileged material had not only been intercepted but had, in at least one instance, been disclosed to external lawyers acting on his case.

DRIPA

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the Snowden revelations, the Government has paved the way for yet more mass surveillance via the so-called "emergency" Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA).

DRIPA was published after behind the scenes agreement on its provisions between the three main party leaders. You can read our briefing on the original Bill here.

Clause 1 of the Act 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 2014, 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 by DRIPA. The Government knew of the judgment for over three months and cannot justify the "emergency" it claimed.

Clause 4 of the Act 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.  Taken with clause 5, clause 4 also appears to achieve the communications data acquisition powers previously sought through the Draft Communications Data Bill (dubbed the "Snoopers' Charter")– expanding the Government’s interception empire by embroiling private firms in the Temporas of tomorrow. It seems that those who failed to make the case previously for that Bill, which was dropped in 2013 after much opposition, have sought to achieve some of the very same objectives via DRIPA - all the while reassuring the public that DRIPA simply maintains the status quo.

What’s more, this “emergency” legislation was rushed into law inside a matter of days.  The two governing principles of our unconsolidated Constitution are parliamentary sovereignty and the Rule of Law.  DRIPA disrespects the first principle by containing a programme agreed between party leaders, denying the legislature time for scrutiny, amendment or even proper debate.  It shows contempt for the second principle by attempting to overrule rather than comply with a Court judgment.

Liberty represents MPs David Davis and Tom Watson in DRIPA legal challenge

Our legal challenge to the Government's "emergency" surveillance law - on behalf of MPs David Davis and Tom Watson - was heard by the High Court in early June 2015.

We argued on Mr Davis and Mr Watson's behalf that DRIPA is incompatible with our Human Rights Act – in particular Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life – as well as with Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

The High Court has now ruled that DRIPA is indeed unlawful - incompatible, as it is, with the British public's right to respect for private life and communications and right to protection of personal data under Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter.

Judges found sections 1 and 2 of DRIPA unlawful on the basis that:

  • they fail to provide clear and precise rules to ensure data is only accessed for the purpose of preventing and detecting serious offences, or for conducting criminal prosecutions relating to such offences;
  • access to data is not authorised by a court or independent body, whose decision could limit access to and use of the data to what is strictly necessary.  The ruling observes that: “The need for that approval to be by a judge or official wholly independent of the force or body making the application should not, provided the person responsible is properly trained or experienced, be particularly cumbersome.”

Anderson Review

Meanwhile, we have welcomed the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation’s call for a fundamental overhaul of the laws governing State surveillance.

In a major 300-page report, David Anderson QC condemns the status quo under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable”, and advises it be replaced with a comprehensive new law that can be properly understood by people and parliamentarians.

This stark and realistic assessment of the need for transparency and reform is in glaring contrast to the Government’s repeated claims since 2013 that the current legislative framework provides effective safeguards to properly protect British people’s privacy.  Liberty has long called for reform of RIPA to ensure that intrusions into personal privacy are properly authorised and comply with human rights principles of necessity and proportionality. Find out more.