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The UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – the so-called Snooper’s Charter – has been dealt a blow as the EU’s highest court ruled today that governments’ “general and indiscriminate retention” of emails and electronic communications is illegal.

According to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, only the targeted interception of traffic and location data for use in combating serious crime, such as terrorism, is justified.

The legal challenge to the UK government’s surveillance legislation was brought to the ECJ by Brexit secretary David Davis, who was a backbench Conservative MP.

Davis and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson gained a high court victory on the issue, but the government appealed the decision, which meant it was then taken to the ECJ.

After the UK withdraws from the EU, the ECJ will no longer have jurisdiction over the government, so the ruling could then be of little consequence. However, until then it at least serves as something of an embarrassment for Theresa May.

Criticisms

The Act, which was approved in November, has been widely criticised as it authorises state agents to intercept internet communications from anywhere in the world, plus it requires internet service providers to retain a year’s worth of website access logs on all users.

Speaking about today’s news, Watson said: “This ruling shows it’s counter-productive to rush new laws through parliament without proper scrutiny.

“At a time when we face a real and ever-present terrorist threat, the security forces may require access to personal information none of us would normally hand over. That’s why it’s absolutely vital that proper safeguards are put in place to ensure this power is not abused, as it has been in the recent past,” he added.

Watson went on to say the government should not have the power to “arbitrarily seize our phone records or emails to use as they see fit”.

“It’s for judges, not Ministers, to oversee these powers. I’m pleased the court has upheld the earlier decision of the UK courts,” he concluded.

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