THE BLOG

Why Liberty, Tom Watson and David Davis Are Taking Legal Action Over DRIP

22/07/2014 16:24 BST | Updated 21/09/2014 10:59 BST

Earlier today in Parliament, we revealed our two newest legal clients - MPs David Davis and Tom Watson. We're representing this cross-party backbench duo in their legal fightback against the Government over its scandalous Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 - "DRIP", for short. We'll be seeking a Judicial Review of the legislation, arguing that it's incompatible with both the European Convention on Human Rights and EU law.

But why does all this matter? What's the problem with DRIP anyway? And what's driving Liberty and two elected representatives from opposite sides of the House of Commons chamber to head for the courts to challenge it?

Well, since 2009, UK service providers have been required to retain "communications data" under a EU Data Retention Directive. That's details of who you phone, email and text, location information and much more besides - all stored, under a blanket retention regime, for 12 months. In April this year the Court of Justice of the EU decided that the Directive was invalid - so sweeping was its interference with our basic privacy rights. The Court's judgment identified at least 10 ways in which the legislation was excessive and disproportionate.

Our Government's response? For three months, it did nothing. Not a murmur. Or so we thought. Then, on 10 July, ministers suddenly unveiled DRIP as "emergency" legislation, right on the eve of summer recess, following a behind-closed-doors agreement between the three main party leaders.

DRIP has ignored the Court of Justice ruling by re-legislating for blanket retention of communications data. But it's also granted the Government astonishing new powers - precisely the likes of which it sought via the so-called "Snoopers' Charter", eventually defeated last year. And all this while brazenly "reassuring" the public that the law simply maintains the status quo.

But not only does DRIP undermine the rule of law in its disregard for April's judgment. The way it was railroaded onto the statute book was nothing short of disgraceful. Our MPs were given just a single day to consider a Bill with huge implications for the privacy of every man, woman and child in the UK. The Government cried "emergency": there wasn't one. Parliament and its "sovereignty" has been treated with complete contempt.

We're often told that, as "communications data" doesn't relate to the actual content of calls, texts and the like, there's nothing to worry about. But such information can paint a very intimate picture of someone's life. It can lead to precise conclusions about our everyday habits; our places of residence; our daily movements; the activities we carry out; our social relationships and so on. And all this data is being scooped up and left subject to an extremely lax access regime - allowing hundreds of public authorities to acquire it. Absolutely no link with the prevention or detection of serious crime is necessary.

That's why David Davis and Tom Watson understandably feel like they've no option but to take legal action, and why we at Liberty feel DRIP is ripe for challenge in the courts.

James Welch is Legal Director for Liberty, a campaigning organisation which seeks to protect civil liberties and promote human rights