‘Ripe for the courts’: Emergency surveillance law faces legal challenge

Liberty is initiating a legal challenge to the emergency surveillance legislation the government forced through the Commons last week.

The group will seek a judicial review on behalf of MPs David Davis and Tom Watson saying that the legislation is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, and Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

"This act of parliament was driven through the House of Commons with ridiculous and unnecessary haste to meet a completely artificial emergency," Davis said.

"As a result members of parliament had no opportunity to either research it, consider it or debate it properly and the aim of this legal action is to make the government give the House the opportunity to do what it should have been allowed in the first place – proper, considered and effective law making."

Watson added: "The three party leaders struck a private deal to railroad through a controversial bill in a week. You cannot make good laws behind closed doors. The new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act does not answer the concerns of many that the blanket retention of personal data is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy."

The emergency legislation was intended to offer telecommunication firms a legal safeguard against a European court of justice which found existing data retention laws interfered with the public's right to privacy.

Britain's surveillance law was based on the 2009 EU data retention directive the court struck down, leaving ministers floundering for a new legal protection for their surveillance network.

After three months, during which the three main parties met for secret talks, the government presented an emergency bill and forced it through the Commons in three days – a process which usually takes months.

Critics said the scheme was intended to drastically reduce scrutiny of the bill, which was also accused of expanding the powers available to the state under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

"It's as ridiculous as it is offensive to introduce an 'emergency' law in response to an essay crisis," James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said.

"The court ruling that blanket data retention breached the privacy of every man, woman and child in the UK 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 is likely to argue that powers to store and access the communications details of British citizens are extremely wide, offer an intimate glimpse of someone's private life, are subject to an extremely lax access regime and are overseen by a home secretary with arbitrary powers.