Members of UK Parliament call for judicial review of data retention law

Two members of the British Parliament are seeking judicial review of a surveillance law that extends U.K. data retention rules and was rushed through by the government.

David Davis and Tom Watson are working with U.K. human rights organization Liberty to get the law reviewed, the organization said Tuesday.

Liberty contends that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, also known as DRIP, which was adopted last week, is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which cover fundamental privacy rights.

DRIP was fast-tracked by the U.K. government after EU laws requiring communications providers to retain metadata were ruled invalid by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in April because they seriously interfered with fundamental privacy rights.

Under the EU’s Data Retention Directive, communication service providers had to retain communications data for periods of between six months and two years for law enforcement purposes. That directive was transposed into U.K. law and the CJEU’s ruling directly affected the legislation. DRIP was introduced to allow law enforcement agencies to access telecommunications data.

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

“The bill was privately agreed following discussions between the three main party leaders. It became law within just three days—rendering proper parliamentary scrutiny, amendment and even debate impossible,” Liberty said, calling it “ridiculous” and “offensive” to introduce an emergency law.

“The court ruling that blanket data retention breached the privacy of every man, woman and child in the U.K. was more than three months ago. The government has shown contempt for both the rule of law and Parliamentary Sovereignty, and this private cross party stitch-up, railroaded onto the statute book inside three days, is ripe for challenge in the Courts,” Liberty legal director James Welch said in a statement.

Liberty asked the U.K. home secretary to concede that the act is indeed incompatible with EU rights and to present a replacement bill, allowing parliament to fulfill its proper constitutional function, Welch said, adding that the government has seven days to respond. “If the government does not agree to this, we will issue judicial review proceedings,” he said in an email response to a request for comment.

That means that Liberty will ask the court to rule on whether the new act is compatible with EU regulation, Welch said. If the court declares the legislation incompatible that would be a signal that the government and parliament should look at the legislation again and take steps to change it, he added in the email.

The U.K.’s Open Rights Group also threatened legal action over the law last week and is said to be considering the best way to take the government to court.

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