At 11.00 am this morning, Liberty announced that it will seek a Judicial Review of the Government’s ’emergency’ surveillance law on behalf of MPs David Davis and Tom Watson. The announcement comes days after the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIP) was – according to Liberty – “rushed through Parliament” onto the statute book.
Liberty is arguing on Davis and Watson’s behalf that the new legislation is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to respect for private and family life, and Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights relating to respect for private and family life and the protection of personal data.
Since 2009, communications data has been retained by public communications services and network providers under a 2009 EU Data Retention Directive. However, back in April the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the Directive was invalid because it was so sweeping in its interference with individual privacy rights. The judgement made clear that existing UK legislation, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), required urgent review.
On 10 July 2014, the DRIP Bill was introduced by ministers claiming that “emergency” legislation was necessary. The Bill was privately agreed following discussions between the three main party leaders. It became law within just three days – a timescale which Liberty feels has rendered proper parliamentary scrutiny, amendment and even debate impossible.
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said: “It’s as ridiculous as it is offensive to introduce an “emergency” law in response to an essay crisis. The court ruling that blanket data retention breached the privacy of every man, woman and child in the UK was more than three months ago. The Government has shown contempt for both the rule of law and Parliamentary Sovereignty. This private cross-party stitch-up, rail-roaded onto the statute book inside three days, is ripe for challenge in the Courts.”
David Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, added: “This Act of Parliament was driven through the House of Commons with ridiculous and unnecessary haste to meet a completely artificial emergency. As a result, Members of Parliament had no opportunity to either research it, consider it or debate it properly. The aim of this legal action is to make the Government give the House the opportunity to do what it should have been allowed to do in the first place – in other words proper, considered and effective law-making. The overall aim is to create law which both protects the security of our citizens without unnecessarily invading their privacy.”
Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, added: “The three party leaders struck a private deal to rail-road through a controversial Bill in a week. You cannot make good laws behind closed doors. The new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act does not answer the concerns of many that the blanket retention of personal data is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy.”
The Human Rights Act 1998
The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the ECHR into UK law. Section 3 requires that, so far as it is possible to do so, primary and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with Convention rights.
Section 4 stipulates that in any proceedings in which a court determines whether a provision or primary legislation is compatible with a Convention right, the court may – if it’s satisfied that the provision is incompatible – make a declaration of that incompatibility.
Liberty’s clients (ie David Davis MP and Tom Watson MP) claim that Section 1 of the DRIP 2014 is incompatible with the Human Rights Act and, in particular, Article 8 of the ECHR, together with Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter.
The powers within Section 1 of DRIP are extraordinarily wide. In its letter before claim to the Home Secretary, Liberty argues that such powers are incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR and/or Articles 7 and/or 8 of the EU Charter for a number of reasons, including the following:
*Communications data can provide a very intimate picture of a person’s life – who they communicated with, by what means, the time and length of the communication, where the communication took place and the frequency of the communications. As the CJEU ruling said: “Those data, taken as a whole, may allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained, such as the habits of everyday life, permanent or temporary places of residence, daily or other movements, the activities carried out, the social relationships of those persons and the social environments frequented by them”
*Communications data retained under DRIP is subject to an extremely lax access regime – still governed by the RIPA (Communications Data) Order 2010 – allowing such data to be acquired by hundreds of public authorities
*The Act allows the Home Secretary to command, by order, the blanket retention of all communications data for 12 months – no link with the prevention or detection of serious crime is required
Via its letter before claim, Liberty has invited the Home Secretary Theresa May to concede that the Act is indeed incompatible and to publish and present a replacement Bill, in turn allowing Parliament to fulfil its proper constitutional function.
Alternatively, the Home Secretary is invited to concede that Peter Davis MP and Tom Watson MP’s claim is arguable and that a substantive hearing ought to follow.