PRIVACY INTERNATIONAL has argued that the government's bulk collection of data breaches European law, in a fresh challenge that could force the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to decide whether the UK's Investigatory Powers Act is legal.
Privacy International, which has long fought back against the so-called Snoopers' Charter, took its argument to court on Monday. It called out the government for failing to implement an ECJ ruling last year. This followed a case brought by Labour MP Tom Watson and Conservative MP David Davis, in which the ECJ ruled that "only the targeted retention of that data solely for the purpose of fighting serious crime" was permissible.
Millie Graham Wood, legal officer at Privacy International, said: "One of the key issues is that the government is arguing that the safeguards that come from the Watson judgment and other cases don't apply, which is very worrying because they are very basic measures."
However, intelligence services argue that they would be unable to carry out complex and fast-moving investigations, for example, to identify members of a terrorist group, if they had to rely on targeted surveillance on suspects, rather than mass collection of data.
As reported by the Guardian, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) said it was considering referring the issue to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
""his case raises a fundamental political question as to the competing powers of the nation state and the EU," the vice-president of the IPT, Mr Justice Mitting, told the hearing.
Privacy International's challenge, which has seen the firm arguing that "the constitutional right to personal privacy sets limits on state surveillance powers", comes just two days after Theresa May called for 'internet companies' to do more to tackle the spread of extremist material in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack.
In a speech given on Sunday morning, May once again shook her fist in the direction of Google, Facebook and Twitter, and said that existing online "safe spaces" that allow terrorism to "breed" must be eradicated.
"We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet - and the big companies that provide internet-based services - provide," May said.
"We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online."
Digital rights advocates were quick to criticise May's "draconian" approach to the internet.
The Pirate Party, in a blog post titled 'Theresa May uses London Bridge attack to further her autocratic agenda', slammed the PM for using Saturday night's events to "once again further her own political agenda".
"Theresa May's desire to regulate the internet is a deathly serious threat, and we need to fight back against it with everything we have. So much of the economy, culture, communication and infrastructure of the 21st Century is founded on a free and open internet, and it is absolutely crucial that it remain that way," said Mark Chapman, Pirate Party Candidate for Vauxhall.
"Furthermore, regulating the internet will not solve the threat of terrorism. What we need is a well-funded police force with the resources to act on intel from targeted surveillance - not warrantless mass surveillance and the curbing of our human rights and freedoms." µ
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