UK court ruling on mass surveillance serves as a warning to Australian operations, warns digital rights advocates.

Following a legal challenge by UK Labour MP Tom Watson and civil rights group Liberty, the UK Court of Appeal has ruled that accessing retained data without proper oversight, or if there was no serious crime, is inconsistent with EU law.

“The Australian Government should heed this as a massive warning about their own mandatory metadata retention scheme, specifically on current plans to weaken encryption and seek ‘back door’ access to encrypted services,” said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton.

Better known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, the law gives British intelligence services and law enforcement the ability to carry out both targeted and bulk surveillance of communications data. This also includes requirements that telecommunication operators provide the capability to access the content of communications and remove protections. This UK law was seen as an example that Australia has since sought to follow with its own similar legislation.

“This is a very clear ruling that the UK Government has been breaking the law by collecting its own citizens phone and internet activity and allowing agencies to utilise these details without appropriate oversight.”

“It’s possible that this ruling could have immediate impacts on Australia’s involvement in information-sharing arrangements under the ‘Five Eyes’ partnership, which sees data pooled and shared across borders including within the UK,” said Mr Singleton Norton.

“Australia is increasingly out of step with other countries internationally when it comes to respect for rights and accountability in the use of surveillance powers. We stand out, but not in a good way.”

“Our Government seem convinced that warrantless mass surveillance is an inevitability within the developed world, but fail to realise that human rights are often inconsistent with this huge overreach into the private and personal lives of individuals.”

“This should be an important moment of reflection by lawmakers globally, who ought to recognise the precedent that is being set in the UK, namely, that attempts to introduce warrantless mass surveillance regimes are increasingly being invalidated on human rights grounds. It is time we came together as a global community to agree on what is appropriate State behaviour in cyberspace, and start the process towards a global treaty to protect individual privacy online,” he concluded.