U.K. Rights Group Privacy International Wins Supreme Court Case Against Spy Agency

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Supreme Court

Privacy International (PI), a U.K.-based rights organization has reported a key win at the Kingdom’s Supreme Court that has ruled that any decisions made by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that is essentially a spying tribunal are subject to judicial review in the High Court.

According to PI, this victory is a primary endorsement and affirmation of the rule of law in the U.K., which, in principle will imply that any legal misinterpretations by the IPT can be rectified, hence cannot avoid an oversight net in ordinary U.K. courts.

PI’s legal battle with IPT and the U.K. government started a little over five years ago. Specifically, former American spy Edward Snowden revealed a series of damning abuse of privacy rights by governments, including U.K.’s security and intelligence services that were accused of gaining illegal access to millions of smart devices and computers.



PI swung in challenging these practices, where involved parties such as the IPT and the U.K. government argued that it was lawful to use a single warrant to gain access to every phone in a U.K. city. The better part of 2016 and 2017 was spent fighting court decisions, for which PI was granted permission to challenge a ruling made by the Supreme Court in favour of the U.K. government.

“Privacy International challenged the IPT’s decision before the UK High Court. The Government argued that even if the IPT had got the law completely wrong, or had acted unfairly, the High Court had no power to correct the mistake. That question went all the way to the UK Supreme Court, and resulted in today’s judgment,” states Privacy International.

The Court’s argument was based IPT’s indulgence in legal issues that are not only of the public importance but also has possible outcomes for legal rights and remedies that surpass the scope of IPT’s remit.


“Today’s judgment is a historic victory for the rule of law. It ensures that the UK intelligence agencies are subject to oversight by the ordinary UK courts. The ruling paves the way for Privacy International’s challenge to the UK Government’s use of bulk computer hacking warrants. Our challenge has been delayed for years by the Government’s persistent attempt to protect the IPT’s decisions from scrutiny. We are heartened that our case will now go forward,” says Caroline Wilson Palow, Privacy International’s General Counsel.

The counsel also stated that PI’s win and its incoming implications regarding the policing what spy agencies can and cannot do is all-encompassing as countries across the globe are battling issues about what power should reside in each branch of the government.

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