UK court to review legality of fast-tracked surveillance law

Although the law might be illegal, the UK government is looking to expand its web snooping capabilities

A surveillance law that was rushed through by the U.K. government will be reviewed by the country's High Court to determine if it violates human rights.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, also known as DRIPA, was adopted in July by the U.K. government, after the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) invalidated EU laws requiring communication providers to retain metadata. The EU court said those laws seriously interfered with fundamental privacy rights. Since the U.K. law that preceded DRIPA was based on the invalidated EU laws, it needed replacement legislation.

However, the new law is worse than the one it replaces, according to civil rights groups which pointed out that, for instance, it not only gives law enforcement officers access to metadata but also allows them access to the content of messages, even if they are held by companies outside the U.K.

That is why U.K. human rights organization Liberty, along with two members of the British Parliament, decided to seek a review of the law. Permission for such a review was granted on Monday, Liberty said on Twitter. "This is the first stage of the process. It means the court will proceed to a full judicial review," said Elizabeth Knight, legal director of the Open Rights Group (ORG) which joined the case together with Privacy International after the case was filed. "After the Court of Justice of the EU declared the Data Retention Directive invalid, the U.K. government had the opportunity to design new legislation that would protect human rights. It chose instead to circumvent the decision of the CJEU by introducing the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which is almost identical to the Data Retention Directive," Knight said. The ORG wants to help demonstrate that DRIPA breaches the fundamental human right to privacy and does not comply with human rights and EU law, she said.

Even though DRIPA is quite new and now under review, the U.K. government is already planning to add onto the law to address a so-called "capabilities gap" that authorities face when trying to obtain communications data.

In November it unveiled a counterterrorism bill which would require ISPs to retain IP addresses in order to identify individual users of Internet services, a thing that DRIPA does not provide for.

The High Court will now review DRIPA in a substantive hearing which will probably last for a few days, Knight said. The date for the hearing hasn't been announced but will probably be set after February next year, she said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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