On January 30, 2018, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (“DRIPA”) was inconsistent with EU law. The judgment, pertaining to the now-expired act, is relevant to current UK surveillance practices and is likely to result in major amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act (“IP Act”), the successor of DRIPA.
In the instant case, the Court of Appeal ruled that DRIPA was inconsistent with EU law as it permitted access to communications data when the objective was not restricted solely to fighting serious crime. Additionally, the Court held that DRIPA lacked adequate safeguards since it permitted access to communications data without subjecting such access to a prior review by a court or independent administrative authority. The ruling follows the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”), to which the Court of Appeal referred questions regarding the instant case in 2015.
The IP Act, which was enforced in 2017, largely replicates and further expands upon the powers contained in DRIPA. Though the present judgment does not change the way UK law enforcement agencies can currently access communications data for the detection and disruption of crime under the IP Act, the UK government is currently facing a separate case challenging the IP Act in the High Court, due to be heard in February 2018.
Reacting to the 2016 ruling of the CJEU, the UK government in late 2017 published a consultation document and proposed amendments to the IP Act which aimed to address the judgment of the CJEU. The proposed changes were deemed to fall short of the CJEU ruling by Liberty, the UK human rights organization bringing the proceedings against the IP Act in the High Court.
The present case and the future ruling of the High Court on the IP Act could impact the UK significantly when Brexit negotiations turn to discussions on adequacy and data sharing between the UK and the EU. UK surveillance legislation that is incompatible with EU data protection law could bring a halt to data flows between EU and UK law enforcement agencies and organizations.