Campaigners have won a huge victory against the Government, after the High Court ruled that the data laws that regulate how police and spooks spy on citizens were unlawful. But the ruling gives the Government until March to fix the broken law — by which time it hopes to have introduced yet more far-reaching legislation.
Two MPs and other campaigners won a ruling from two judges in London that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) is "inconsistent with EU law".
The decision was a victory for Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis and Labour backbencher Tom Watson who brought the legal challenge with members of the public.
Campaigners argued that there wasn't enough safeguards to ensure that the interception of communications data — text messages, browsing history, Facebook chats and more — was not limited to cases about serious crime. It also said that the rules allowed people to keep data use secret and complained that it allowed spies to hack into the communications of anyone, including journalists or whistleblowers.
They say they are concerned to protect the confidentiality of their contacts with constituents and other members of the public - including whistleblowers - who might approach them with sensitive information.
The judges said that the first section of Dripa "does not lay down clear and precise rules providing for access to and use of communications data" and should be "disapplied".
But the judges said their order on disapplication should be suspended until after March 31 2016 "to give Parliament the opportunity to put matters right".
Their case is backed by the human rights pressure group Liberty.
Liberty's legal director James Welch said: "Campaigners, MPs across the political spectrum, the Government's own reviewer of terrorism legislation are all calling for judicial oversight and clearer safeguards.
Whistleblowing controversies of the last decade
Whistleblowing controversies of the last decade
1/12 Edward Snowden NSA leak
Articles in The Guardian revealed that the US and the UK spied on foreign leaders and diplomats at the 2009 G20 summit.
2/12 WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak
In 2009, former US soldier Chelsea Manning, downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified US Government documents, and passed them on to Jullian Assange's whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Among the documents were 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables. One disclosed the close relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Guardian reported. Allegations included "lavish gifts", lucrative energy contracts and the use by Berlusconi of a "shadowy" Russian-speaking Italiango-between.
3/12 WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak
WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak: In a revelation which bruised the UK's 'special relationship' with the US, WikiLeaks published conversations by US commanders criticising Britain's military operations in Afghanistan.
4/12 WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak
WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak: One document disclosed startling levels of corruption in Afghanistan, including an incident involving the then vice-president, Ahmad Zia Massoud, who was reportedly stopped and questioned in Dubai when he flew into the emirate with $52m in cash.
5/12 WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak
Another cable documented fears in Washington over Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, in a volatile country with a strategic position in the Middle East.
6/12 WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables leak
Day four of the gradual drip of leaks exposed allegations that Russia and its intelligence agencies are using mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations, with one cable reporting that the relationship is so close that the country has become a "virtual mafia state".
7/12 Edward Snowden NSA leak
In 2013, The Guardian published classified US National Security Agency (NSA) documents, from a then anonymous whistleblower. Four days later he was exposed as former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A month after the initial leak, the New York Times allegeded that the NSA received emails, video clips, photos, voice and video calls, social networking details, logins and other data held by a range of US internet firms.
8/12 Edward Snowden NSA leak
Since Snowden revealed that the US had eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, German-US relations have been strained. In May 2014, Mrs Merkel said still had significant differences with the United States over surveillance practices and that it was too soon to return to “business as usual," according to the New York Times.
9/12 Edward Snowden NSA leak
On 7 June, The Guardian published the Presidential Policy Directive 20, whcih included a list of potential targets for cyber-attacks by the US Government.
10/12 Samy Kamkar iPhone and Android exposé
In April 2014, hacker and researcher Samy Kamkar revealed that Android phones collect user location data every few seconds. Files are then transited to Google several times an hour.
11/12 Samy Kamkar iPhone and Android exposé
It is believed Apple and Google are using the data to better target adverts to smartphone users, according to The Guardian.
12/12 Samy Kamkar iPhone and Android exposé
The two companies have since justified the collection of data. In a letter to the US congress Apple confirmed it collected the data and said that, in order to be useful, "the databases [of tower and network locations] must be updated continuously". A Google spokesman told the Guardian Android phones explicitly asked to collect anonymous location data when users turned them on.
"The High Court has now added its voice, ruling key provisions of Dripa unlawful. Now is the time for the Home Secretary to commit publicly to surveillance conducted with proper respect for privacy, democracy and the rule of law - not plough on with more of the same."
But the high court ruling is only the latest in a series of high-profile, expert criticisms of the way that spying is regulated. After each of those recent criticisms — including detailed Government-commissioned reports — Theresa May and colleagues have vowed to push on with plans to increase spying powers.
But David Davis said that the new ruling could signal a change: "They will now have to rewrite the law to require judicial or independent approval before accessing innocent people's data, reflecting the new consensus amongst experts in the Anderson and Rusi reports.
“This change will improve both privacy and security, as whilst the Government gave Parliament one day to consider its law, the court has given almost nine months."
The judges declared the legislation "does not lay down clear and precise rules providing for access to and use of communications data retained pursuant to a retention notice to be strictly restricted to the purpose of preventing and detecting precisely defined serious offences, or of conducting criminal prosecutions relating to such offences".
The data laws were also flawed because "access to the data is not made dependent on a prior review by a court or an independent administrative body whose decision limits access to and use of the data to what is strictly necessary for the purpose of attaining the objective pursued".
The judges ordered that Section 1 of Dripa should be disapplied "in so far as access to and use of communications data retained pursuant to a retention notice is permitted for purposes other than the prevention and detection of serious offences, or the conduct of criminal proceedings" in circumstances where there was no prior review by a court or independent body.
Additional reporting by Press Association