**EU’s highest court delivers blow to UK snooper’s charter
“General and indiscriminate retention” of emails and electronic communications by governments is illegal, the EU’s highest court has ruled, in a judgment that could trigger challenges against the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – the so-called snooper’s charter. Only targeted interception of traffic and location data in order to combat serious crime – including terrorism – is justified, according to a long-awaited decision by the European court of justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.
The finding came in response to a legal challenge initially brought by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, when he was a backbench MP, and Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, over the legality of GCHQ’s bulk interception of call records and online messages…At issue was whether there are EU standards on data retention that need to be respected by member states in domestic legislation. The result, though immediately significant, could prove academic once the UK has withdrawn from the EU and the ECJ no longer has jurisdiction over the UK.
In a summary of the ruling, the court said electronic communications allow “very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of persons whose data has been retained”.
It added: “The interference by national legislation that provides for the retention of traffic data and location data with that right must therefore be considered to be particularly serious.
“The fact that the data is retained without the users of electronic communications services being informed of the fact is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance. Consequently, only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference.
“Legislation prescribing a general and indiscriminate retention of data … exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society.” Prior authorisation by a court or independent body to access retained data is required for each official request, the ECJ said.
Before becoming Brexit minister, Davis travelled to Luxembourg to hear the case. He argued that the British government was “treating the entire nation as suspects” by ignoring safeguards on retaining and accessing personal communications data…The Dripa case was heard by 15 ECJ judges. It coincided with successive atrocities in Paris, Brussels and Nice that reinforced political demands for expansion of powers to intercept emails and phone calls to help catch Islamic State militants operating on the continent. Lawyers for the UK government maintained that intercepted communications have been at the heart of every terrorist case investigated by police and the security services in recent years…
Martha Spurrier, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “Today’s judgment upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant. The government must now make urgent changes to the Investigatory Powers Act [IPA] to comply with this.
“This is the first serious post-referendum test for our government’s commitment to protecting human rights and the rule of law. The UK may have voted to leave the EU – but we didn’t vote to abandon our rights and freedoms.” Liberty is preparing to challenge the IPA in court.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: “Blanket surveillance of our communications is intrusive and unacceptable in a democracy. **