MPs claim data law breaches human rights

Labour backbencher Tom Watson arrives at the High Cour to challenge the Government. Picture: PA
Labour backbencher Tom Watson arrives at the High Cour to challenge the Government. Picture: PA
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Two MPs launched a High Court challenge yesterday against Government legislation which gives police and security services access to people’s phone and internet records on the grounds that it is “incompatible with EU law”.

Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis and Labour backbencher Tom Watson and other campaigners argue the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) does not contain sufficient safeguards to protect the public.

The Act was rushed through Parliament in three days in July last year with the backing of all three major party leaders.

Dinah Rose QC, appearing for both MPs, who sat in front of her at London’s High Court, said that, as MPs, both men had particular reason to seek to protect the confidentiality of their contacts with constituents and other members of the public – including whistleblowers – who might approach them with sensitive information.

Both fully appreciated the importance of communications data in relation to the fight against crime and terrorism. In a legal challenge backed by Liberty, Ms Rose said: “Their concern is that this legislation doesn’t contain the necessary minimum safeguards to protect against risk of arbitrary, disproportionate or abusive retention and use of personal data, and for that reason it breaches the fundamental right to privacy.”

The QC is asking Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Collins to rule that Dripa is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights relating to respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

Ms Rose referred to the fact that Dripa had been enacted “at very great speed” in July 2014.

Mr Justice Collins observed that there were “plenty of examples” of speedy legislation that had “frequently led to disastrous results”.

When the legislation was first introduced by the Coalition government, Prime Minister David Cameron and then Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the accelerated passage of Dripa through Parliament was necessary because of an emergency created by a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The grand chamber of the CJEU had declared, in a case referred to as “Digital Rights Ireland”, that the EU Directive allowing data retention was incompatible with the right to privacy in the EU Charter.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg insisted Dripa would simply maintain existing powers, which required communications companies to retain data for 12 months for possible investigation, but did not allow police or security agencies to access the content of calls or emails without a warrant.

The hearing is expected to last two days.