A cross-party group of MPs will attempt to reverse the emergency extension of surveillance powers on human rights grounds at the High Court on Thursday.
Former Conservative minister David Davis MP, and Tom Watson MP, who is running as a candidate for Labour deputy leader, will take their argument that 2014’s fast-tracked Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act is unlawful to the High Court.
The act was pushed through Parliament in three days in July 2014, and allowed intelligence agencies new powers to gather and retain information about phone calls, text messages and online communications including email. It was deemed necessary by the then-coalition government due to existing powers being invalidated by a ruling from the European Union’s Court of Justice.
In order to maintain effective guards against serious crime and terrorism, the Home Office argued at the time, new emergency powers were required. The bill specifically required companies to retain data for 12 months in case it was needed by government agencies or police.
But critics have argued the legislation is incompatible with existing human rights laws and should be struck down.
Ahead of the likely passage of a new, separate Investigatory Powers bill in the new parliament, made possible by the Conservative party’s ruling majority in the House of Commons, Watson and Davis are spearheading a campaign to have the emergency bill invalidated. The hearing follows the recent about-turn on surveillance in the United States, where President Obama signed into law an act curtailing the powers of the National Security Agency.
Watson and Davis argue the bill does not adequately protect the right to a private life and ensure data protection rights, covered by the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Human Rights Act.
Emma Norton, legal officer for Liberty, said: “The executive dominance of Parliament in rushing through this legislation — using a wholly fabricated “emergency” — made a mockery of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, and showed a staggering disregard for the entire population’s right to privacy.
“It is thanks to the Human Rights Act that we are able to challenge the government’s actions — the same government which now seeks to axe that very piece of legislation and, by doing so, curb the British people’s ability to do so in future.”
Their campaign would not directly affect the make-up and passage of the new bill, which has not been fully revealed but was announced in the Queen’s speech last month.
A rethought version of a bill previously known as the “Snooper’s Charter”, this new act would give intelligence agencies access to communications data and “provide police and intelligence agencies with the tools” to keep people safe.
In summary, the government has claimed the new bill will:
Give new powers to police and intelligence agencies to “keep you and your family safe”
Fill “gaps” in existing surveillance and data collection laws that make it difficult to “combat terrorism and other serious crime”
Maintain current abilities to “target” online communications of “terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals”
Modernise outdated laws to ensure that are “fit for purpose”
Ensure there is “appropriate oversight” and safeguards for how the powers are used