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Case Studies

Judge rules in favour of Liberty in UK telecoms data case

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Liberty is an independent human rights organisation that challenges injustice and campaigns to help ensure everyone in the UK is treated fairly. Recently, they won their case to prevent UK security services from gaining access to the UK populations telecoms data.

In 2016, the UK government introduced the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), giving agencies such as British Intelligence, Secret Service Intelligence, and Defence Intelligence greater electronic surveillance powers. IPA (also known as the Snoopers Charter) allows UK security agencies to observe public communications and personal information at a wider range, irrespective of whether there’s any criminal activity present.

The data includes phone communications, text messages, location information, and internet browser history. This act sparked controversy in 2017 and Liberty launched a campaign to oppose it.


The argument

Liberty stated that the new security powers were not aligned with EU law and there wasn’t sufficient protection in place as data could be accessed at any time, irrespective of its relevance to national security. They proved that the investigatory powers were not in compliance with European law on Human Rights, particularly in relation to communications in journalism.


The court’s decision on the case

The UK court ruled in favour of Liberty’s claim that private access to telecoms data by intelligence agencies was illegal. The judge stated that prior consent would be required before any access to individuals’ data was given. The Office of Investigatory Powers Commissioner and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal will play a vital role in ensuring the process is followed correctly. This means that cyber security companies will have to collect surveillance data in the same ways that the police do.

Despite Liberty’s success, the judge disputed other claims made by them. Liberty further argued that increased protection was required as the IPA allows ‘promiscuous and generalised’ data to be collected. They also argued that there wasn’t enough protection for materials and sources within journalism. Liberty will take further action by appealing these decisions made by the court.

Read more information about Liberty’s case here.


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