Police to lose ‘snooping’ powers
Forces will have to ask new regulator for internet data after European Court ruling that law is illegal
Ministers are preparing to strip police of surveillance powers ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice. A consultation will suggest that a new regulatory body oversees police requests to look at surveillance data. It would also set a threshold of the seriousness of a case for use of surveillance powers.
MINISTERS are preparing to strip police of controversial surveillance powers ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice. A government consultation to be launched today will suggest that a new regulatory body oversees police requests to look at surveillance data.
The Daily Telegraph understands the consultation proposes taking the power to authorise data requests in serious and organised crime cases away from senior officers and giving the decision to a body, under the auspices of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner but funded by police forces.
It would also set a threshold of whether a criminal case was deemed serious enough for surveillance powers, in most cases where a suspect could receive at least six months in prison. Ministers will also seek suggestions on whether there should be greater oversight of the intelligence agencies’ use of the data.
However sources said ministers believed there was less public demand for regulation of the interception activities by MI5, GCHQ, the National Crime Agency and MI6 because of the threat from terrorism and organised crime.
Theresa May’s surveillance laws were dealt a major setback in December 2016 after the European Union court ruled that the bulk collection of citizens’ internet browsing history was illegal under European law.
The 2014 Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act and its successor, the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act, required internet and phone companies to keep their communications data for a year and regulate how police and intelligence agencies gain access.
The ECJ, however, last year ruled that EU laws forbid the “general and indiscriminate” retention of internet data. The Government has decided to try to comply with the ECJ ruling, even though Britain is heading for Brexit.
Prof Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, said some intelligence allies such as Germany may be reluctant to cooperate with the UK if it did not abide by the court.
Silkie Carlo, senior advocacy officer at Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: “We warned the Government ... that the authoritarian surveillance powers in the Investigatory Powers Act were unlawful. It should be a source of deep embarrassment that, less than a year after it passed, ministers have had to launch a public consultation asking for help to make it comply with people’s basic rights.”
A Home Office spokesman said yesterday: “We will be publishing for consultation our proposed response to the Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling regarding the retention of communications data tomorrow. We will not comment on leaks or speculation.”