As published in The Guardian
Drip surveillance law faces legal challenge by MPs
Two leading Westminster civil liberties campaigners, David Davis and Tom Watson, are to mount a high court legal challenge to the government’s new “emergency” surveillance law, which was rushed through parliament last week.
The application for a judicial review of the new legislation, which was passed with support from the three main parties, is to be mounted by the human rights organisation Liberty on behalf of the two backbench MPs.
Davis, a former Conservative shadow home secretary, said he was taking the unusual step because the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act – also known as the Drip Act – was “driven through the House of Commons with ridiculous and unnecessary haste to meet a completely artificial emergency”.
He told a Westminster press conference the legislation had the effect of “tagging every single person in Britain who has a phone”.
Watson, a former Labour party deputy chairman, said the act failed to answer concerns that the blanket retention of data was a breach of fundamental rights to privacy.
Liberty’s director, Shami Chakrabarti, said the MPs’ decision to go to court represented the legislature and the judiciary fighting back against the executive.
James Welch, Liberty’s legal director, said it was “as ridiculous as it was offensive” to claim that the crisis was an emergency when the European court of justice privacy ruling striking down the existing European Union directive on data retention was more than three months ago.
“The government has shown contempt for both the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty, and this private cross-party stitchup, railroaded on to the statute book inside three days, is ripe for challenge in the courts,” said Welch.
Liberty is to argue on behalf of Davis and Watson that the new legislation is incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which includes the right to respect for private and family life, and article 7 of the European charter of fundamental rights – respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.
The Drip Act requires internet and phone companies to collect their customers’ personal communication data, tracking their phone and internet use, and store it for 12 months to give access to the police, security services and up to 600 public bodies on request.
Liberty argues that such communications data can provide a very intimate picture of a person’s life by detailing who they have been in contact with, by what means, for how long, and from where.
The campaigners are using the legal challenge to invite the home secretary to replace the Drip Act with a replacement bill or concede that there is a substantive case to answer in the high court.
The disclosure of the legal challenge comes on the last Commons sitting before the summer recess when MPs are expected to pass the detailed regulations that accompany the emergency surveillance legislation.