It’s been 67 years since George Orwell painted a dystopian version of England in his novel “1984” about a UK Government entity known as Big Brother who was always looking over your shoulder, peering into what you were doing, watching, and thinking.
Many feared this was coming to the life in the UK in the form of the Investigatory Powers Act, which was approved with only token resistance. UK citizens and those abroad raised serious concerns once this bill was passed. Notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden said this at hearing the news when it was announced:
“The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”
However, now UK citizens can breathe at least a temporary sigh of relief after the European Court of Justice (ECI) judged the Act’s process of data collection as being “not permissible” and “not compatible with EU laws on privacy.”
While the ruling is great news, the facts are that many people still don’t know what the future holds for privacy laws in the UK post-Brexit where the EU cannot enforce their own regulations and rulings.
In this post, we’re going to explore what we know so far.
The Investigatory Powers Act had received royal assent last November and was to bring online multiple surveillance powers to the UK Government. The most troubling for many citizens and business owners included requiring Internet services providers to keep track of users’ web browsing data for up to a year where it could be accessed by government agencies and police departments.
The ECI ruling announced that EU member states cannot “force telecommunications companies to indiscriminately retain data about their users.”
While the ruling is all good for concerned citizens and business owners, the fact that even now the full of the Government is working towards extricating the UK from the EU is cause for concern. The Brexit vote is nearly six months old, but most agree at some point UK will be a separate political and economic entity from the EU, at which point rulings by the ECI simply won’t matter in England.
Therefore, privacy laws are going to be in for a hit and who knows what will happen specifically.
The difference was noted particularly by Liberty director Martha Spurrier, who said: “This is the first serious post-referendum test for our Government’s commitment to protecting human rights and the rule of law. The UK may have voted to leave the EU – but we didn’t vote to abandon our rights and freedoms.
As this article by Tutanota points out, it’s a definite win for the people who want privacy laws that don’t conflict with basic rights and freedoms.
Tech SMBs and Startups
The ruling is particularly relieving to tech industry SMBs and startups, particularly Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
“The whole idea of an internet connection record does not exist as far as internet service providers are concerned,” said James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers’ Association.
The Government had announced it would give out £175 million over the next 10 years to help with the cost, but most ISPs doubted that would be enough. For the time being, they’ve been granted a reprieve on that front.
What the future might hold as the country edges forward towards the Brexit reality is anyone’s guess.
Final Words: Snoopers Charter And Privacy Laws
What will happen in the future regarding privacy laws in the UK and specifically around data retention is anyone’s guess.
However, it was made clear by the EuroCourt that data retention by companies is a violation of EU privacy laws. This may or may not extend to future UK legislation once Britain formally leaves the EU for good.
One thing is for certain and that is that UK citizens are not going to allow companies or governments to violate their rights and freedoms. Therefore, future privacy laws post-Brexit must be considerate of this fact or face a serious backlash.
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