Campaigners: U.K. Surveillance Powers Must Change

LONDON (Reuters) -

Britain will need to amend its law allowing for sweeping powers to carry out mass digital surveillance after a court ruled on Tuesday that previous legislation was illegal, civil rights campaigners said.

London’s Court of Appeal backed a challenge led by lawmaker Tom Watson, deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, that it was not lawful to access personal data where there was no suspicion of criminal activity or where there was no proper oversight.

The ruling referred to an emergency law passed in 2014 but whose capabilities were incorporated into the more wide-ranging Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), called the “Snoopers’ Charter” by critics, which came into force last year.

“This legislation was flawed from the start,” Watson said in a statement.

“The government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data.”

Britain has been at the forefront of a battle between privacy and security since former U.S. security agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of mass monitoring tactics used by U.S. and British agents in 2013.

The IPA gives the authorities broad surveillance powers which they say are vital to protect the public from criminals and terrorism. Critics argue that it grants police and spies some of the most extensive snooping capabilities in the West.

The British court on Tuesday agreed that accessing retained data without proper oversight or if there was no serious crime was inconsistent with EU law.