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#Thousands of lives at risk after High Court rules snooping powers unlawful

Senior judges deliver humiliating defeat for Government on surveillance powers but police warn it means it will make it harder to trace vulnerable people

11:26AM BST 17 Jul 2015

Thousands of lives could be at risk after High Court courts judges ruled snooping powers were unlawful in a humiliating defeat for Theresa May.

They ruled that the surveillance powers, which allow access to phone and email records, should be limited to combating terrorism and serious crime.

But police chiefs and the Home Office warned that would mean officers would no longer be able to use the data to help trace vulnerable people such as those at suicide risk or missing children.

The power was used in around 16,000 such cases last year to prevent death or injury in an emergency situation , the Home Office said.

Under the ruling, judges or an independent body will have to sign off every one of the 500,000-plus requests to access communications data each year.

The judges did not immediately throw out the legislation but instead ordered the Home Office to redraft the law by next March. The powers can still be used in the meantime.

But John Hayes, the Security Minister, said: "We disagree absolutely with this judgment and will seek an appeal."

He also hit out at his Conservative colleague, and former shadow home secretary, David Davis, who was one of two MPs who brought the legal challenge.

Mr Hayes said: "I do think there is a risk here of giving succour to the paranoid liberal bourgeoisie whose peculiar fears are placed ahead of the interests of the people.

"I am surprised David is prepared to do that."

Assistant Chief Constable Richard Berry, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on communications data, said: A significant proportion of our acquisition of data relates to situations where life is at immediate risk and a significant proportion of those requests relate to non-crime enquiries, for example: tracing vulnerable and suicidal missing persons.

Theresa May

Dripa was introduced last year after the European Court of Justice ruled that EU rules that required communication providers to retain customer details for up to a year were unlawful.

The law was rushed through parliament, to ensure that, in the UK, such information was still retain so the police and intelligence agencies could access it if necessary.

It relates to the who, when and where of phones calls, texts and emails but not the content.

There was criticism at the time that it had not allowed for proper parliamentary scrutiny and the High Court has now ruled it is inconsistent with EU laws .

The challenge was brought by Mr Davis and Labour backbencher Tom Watson, who argued Dripa breached human rights.

Mr Davis said: "The court has recognised what was clear to many last year, that the Government's hasty and ill-thought through legislation is fatally flawed.

Mr Watson added: "The Government was warned that rushing through important security legislation would end up with botched law. Now the High Court has said they must come back to Parliament and do it properly.

In the High Court, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Collins declared that section one of Dripa "does not lay down clear and precise rules providing for access to and use of communications data" and should be "disapplied".

The data laws were also flawed because "access to the data is not made dependent on a prior review by a court or an independent administrative body whose decision limits access to and use of the data to what is strictly necessary for the purpose of attaining the objective pursued".

But they suspended their order until after March 31 2016 to give Parliament time to reconsider data retention laws in the light of their ruling.




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