The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has determined that “general and indiscriminate retention” of electronic communications by a government is illegal, in a judgement that squarely takes aim at the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed by many as the snooper’s charter.
The retention of a user’s data would need to be targeted, and collected only if a person is suspected of committing a serious crime, the judgement claims.
The Investigatory Powers Bill – that replaced the equally controversial Dripa Act – came into force during autumn 2016, and forces UK ISP’s and phone companies to retain the Internet history of all their customers, including information about search history, websites visited, emails and mobile apps used, which can then be accessed by a plethora of government controlled agencies.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden referred to the bill as “the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West” and many privacy experts have since claimed the bill makes the UK the leading surveillance nation in the West, and likely to inspire other countries to introduce similar legislation.
This indiscriminate retention of user web history as outlined by the Investigatory Powers Bill would be illegal, according to EU laws, and this judgement by the ECJ is likely to spark challenges to the snooper’s charter legality.
However, any legal challenges may – of course – prove trivial, since the UK is on the verge of leaving the European Union, meaning they would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This means the legality of the bill would be determined by the legislative branch of the same government that introduced it.
The judgement is just the latest twist in a long running story between privacy and national security, that has dominated 2016 and likely to do the same in 2017.
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