Legal success for the civil rights organizations Liberty and Privacy International (PI): The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is responsible for monitoring the British security authorities, ruled on Monday that MI5 knowingly unlawfully stored large amounts of personal communication data between 2014 and 2019 has. The court found the domestic intelligence agency failed to meet the requirements for proper retention, review, and disposal. The systems should therefore have provided for automatic deletion after the legally permitted storage period, which was not the case. Millions of people may have been affected by this practice.
Violations at multiple levels
In the ruling, the IPT criticized the organizations’ 2020 lawsuit that there had been “very serious failures” at the highest level of MI5 in complying with data protection regulations since 2014. Successive UK home secretaries have failed to investigate or rectify these long-standing breaches of the rules, despite obvious red flags. The surveillance orders issued by the Interior Ministry were therefore illegal. They failed to meet the protection requirements under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA), known as “snooping laws”.
MI5 breached its duty to inform the Home Office “fully and openly” of potential reservations on requests to carry out surveillance measures, according to the decision. He only admitted in 2016 – about three years late – that he was “aware of a very high risk” of violating the legal requirements. In addition, the Home Office failed to play its role as supervisor. Since the orders on the basis of which MI5 interfered with the right to privacy and collected masses of sometimes sensitive personal data were not in accordance with the law, they also violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The judgment shows “that the so-called safeguards are completely ineffective when it comes to protecting our rights and holding those in power to account,” explains Megan Goulding, a lawyer at Liberty. The government must now quickly create restrictions that actually protect the privacy of citizens. It is undemocratic and dangerous “to give MI5 a free pass,” adds PI Legal Director Caroline Wilson Palow. Civil rights activists are now hoping that, given the violations identified, the IPT will reopen another case in which they challenged MI5’s mass surveillance powers. There, too, the secret service did not disclose evidence, although it was obliged to do so.
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