It is established that the basis of society has shifted considerably since September 11 2001. We have seen significant amounts of data collected to help with national security and to try and identify potential terrorist action across the world.
Much of this has caused controversy, with data gathering techniques and secretive government agencies working in grey areas causing many human rights groups to question their validity. The balancing point between civil liberties and national security has generally tipped towards the latter, with legislation being passed swiftly. Many believe that these new laws have been passed without enough thought on their long-term impact and now we are seeing that they are being debunked.
In two landmark rulings, courts in the US and UK found that government data collection laws and practices were in breach of human rights and needed to be amended. The most recent in the UK found that the DRIPA act passed by the UK government in 2014 was incompatible with the British public’s right to respect for private life and communications and to protection of personal data under Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The idea behind this being that there are no rules in place that dictate that the data being collected is only for national security reasons. With a lack of oversight, it means that government agencies had free reign over what was collected and the justifications for this collection.
This finding was met with praise by Liberty, a human rights group - ‘Liberty has long called for fundamental reform of our surveillance laws to ensure the public’s rights are properly respected by our Government – the chorus of voices demanding change is now growing’.
Although this, and the recent NSA data collection ruling in the US, are both signs of a growing understanding of the importance of civil liberties in data usage, it is also a sign that courts are understanding data and the implications it has on the general population.
We have also discussed the importance of well thought out and researched data legislation in the past and both of these court cases show that this has not been the case in the past. Both the NSA and DRIPA court cases, in addition to Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’, show that courts are now willing to rule on data collection and dissemination practices. These cases may have been about basic civil liberties, but it may have a knock-on effect on the ways that companies collect and store information in the future.
It is essential that companies and governments take the time to create robust and considerate data programmes, or a date in court may be looming.