Privacy and surveillance

Privacy and Surveillance

We work with individuals and NGOs in securing accountability for unlawful surveillance activities and in challenging the legal frameworks that have permitted them. We advise on the domestic, human rights and EU law in this area, including the requirements of data protection law.

The Edward Snowden disclosures beginning in June 2013 shone a spotlight on mass state surveillance in an entirely unprecedented way. Their content came as a surprise to the public, NGOs, MPs and even members of government. However, the conflict between privacy rights and increasingly expansive government surveillance was already well underway. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, under which many of the controversial programmes took place, was itself a response to an earlier European Court of Human Rights ruling requiring greater certainty of the law in this area.

Legal challenges in this area require familiarity with the detail of the recent disclosures and with the often complex legal framework governing surveillance activities and which provides differing protections in relation to communications content and metadata; interception and data retention; and ‘internal’ and ‘external’ communications. We are familiar with these issues and collaborate closely with NGOs with considerable expertise in these areas.

As well as advising on prospective legal challenges, we represent the applicants in the prominent legal challenge to the UK’s mass surveillance programmes (Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, English PEN & Constanze Kurz v United Kingdom – European Court of Human Rights (ongoing)) and we represent the NGO interveners in the challenge to the UK’s ‘data retention’ law: the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (R (Davis & Watson v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Open Rights Group, Privacy International and the Law Society intervening), which is now the subject of a reference to the Court of Justice of the EU.