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Liberty wins ‘landmark’ victory in challenge against intelligence powers

CIVIL rights campaign group Liberty claimed a “landmark” victory today following its High Court challenge against powers used by the security services during criminal investigations.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate’s verdict makes it “unlawful” for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to obtain people’s communications data from telecom firms without “prior independent authorisation,” the campaign group said.

Liberty took legal action against the Home Office and Foreign Office as part of its wider challenge to provisions of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act.

“[The Act] — otherwise known as the Snoopers’ Charter — has provided state agencies access to our private communications and personal information regardless of whether they suspect us of any wrongdoing,” a spokeswoman said.

“Data that can be accessed under the Act includes telephone records, text messages, location history and internet browsing history.

“The court ruled that there are insufficient safeguards within the Act when it comes to the security services obtaining people’s private data.”

Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding called the judgement “a major victory in the fight against mass surveillance.”

She said: “The court has agreed that it’s too easy for the security services to get their hands on our data.

“From now on, when investigating crime, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will have to obtain independent authorisation.”

The spokeswoman said “independent authorisation” would probably come from a judge or the Office for Communications Data Authorisations.

In their ruling, the judges explained how Liberty argued that part of the Act did not comply with a “requirement for prior independent authorisation of access to communications data.”

Lawyers representing ministers disputed Liberty’s arguments but were rebuffed by the judges, who indicated their decision will mean security services operate under the same requirements as police.

“When the security and intelligence agencies act for an ordinary criminal purpose, we cannot see any logical or practical reason why they should not be subject to the same legal regime as the police,” judges said.

“The mere fact that in general they operate in the field of national security cannot suffice for this purpose.

“It is the particular function in issue which is relevant.”

“The claimant succeeds on this particular ground of challenge.”

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