UK digital surveillance laws ruled unlawful

Judges say police and others have too much power to spy on your internet and phone records.

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A British police officer helps out a phone user in London.

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The UK government's system for spying on internet use and phone records has been ruled unlawful.

Appeal court judges confirmed on Tuesday that the foundations of Britain's mass digital surveillance programme give police and intelligence agencies too much leeway to access confidential information. According to the ruling, the current system doesn't do enough to limit snooping to those involved in serious crime, or require police to seek the thumbs-up from independent authorities before they delve into our data.

Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson mounted the original legal challenge against the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) back in 2014. DRIPA laid the groundwork for the current Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the Snooper's Charter, which means the current law may have to be changed. 

"This judgment tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public's human rights," said Martha Spurrier, director of civil liberties campaigners Liberty.  "No politician is above the law," she added. "When will the Government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?"

Security Minister Ben Wallace insisted the ruling did not undermine the current laws, responding that "today's judgment does not change the way in which law enforcement agencies can detect and disrupt crimes... We had already announced that we would be amending the Investigatory Powers Act to address the two areas in which the Court of Appeal has found against the previous data retention regime."