January 30, 2018 - Updated on January 31, 2018

UK: Protection for journalists must be ensured in changes to the 'Snoopers’ Charter'

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the ruling of the UK Court of Appeal of 30 January 2018 in a case brought by Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson, finding that the UK government’s mass surveillance regime is unlawful.

The court found that the powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) were “inconsistent with EU law” as they lacked safeguards such as independent oversight of decisions by public bodies to access personal data. DRIPA has since been replaced by the Investigatory Powers Act, which retained and vastly expanded these powers. The ruling confirms that changes will now be needed to the Act.

RSF has long voiced concern about the threats posed to press freedom by the Investigatory Powers Act - also known as the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ - calling it a “potential death sentence” for investigative journalism in the UK. Despite undergoing an extensive series of amendments in the House of Lords, the law as adopted failed to include sufficient protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources.

“While this ruling did not specifically address press freedom concerns, it does mean changes will need to be made to the Investigatory Powers Act. We continue to advocate for the inclusion of safeguards for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources in any amendments to this menacing law. The government’s previously proposed changes, in anticipation of this ruling, are woefully insufficient in addressing these very serious concerns”, said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director.

The UK dropped two places to 40th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, in part due to the adoption of the Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the “most extreme surveillance law in UK history”.