UK security services must seek approval to access telecoms data, judges rule

The security and intelligence services must acquire “prior independent authorisation” to obtain people’s communications data from telecom providers, a civil rights campaign group has said, after it won a high court challenge.

Liberty hailed a “landmark victory” and said two judges ruled it was unlawful for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to obtain individuals’ communications data from telecom providers without having prior independent authorisation during criminal investigations.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Holgate delivered their ruling on Friday after considering Liberty’s challenge at a high court hearing in London. The campaign group took legal action against the Home Office and Foreign Office, with the litigation the latest stage of a wider challenge to provisions of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act.

The Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding said: “This judgment is a major victory in the fight against mass surveillance. The court has agreed that it’s too easy for the security services to get their hands on our data. From now on, when investigating crime, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will have to obtain independent authorisation before being able to access our communications data.”

A Liberty spokesperson said independent authorisation would probably come from a judge or the Office for Communications Data Authorisations.

In their ruling, the judges explained how Liberty argued that part of the Investigatory Powers Act did not comply with a requirement for prior independent authorization of access to communications data.

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