Home Government Tech Policy British spies admit to illegal data collection from rights body
British spies admit to illegal data collection from rights body Pixabay

Three British intelligence agencies — MI5, GCHQ and MI6 — have admitted illegally collecting private data relating to the charity Privacy International as part of its bulk communications data and bulk personal datasets programs.

The disclosure comes less than a fortnight after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the methods used by GCHQ to collect information through bulk interception of online communications violated privacy and did not provide enough safeguards.

A statement from Privacy International said the agencies had denied on more than one occasion that their programs were the equivalent of mass surveillance of people who were innocent of any crime.

The mea culpa from the British agencies occurred during the course of a challenge by Privacy International to the powers for the BPD and BCD programs before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a court that hears claims against British intelligence services.

Privacy International said following the disclosure, it had written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid to ask what changes would be made to the Investigatory Powers Act which is better known as the Snoopers Charter.

Privacy International's general counsel Caroline Wilson Palow said: "Today's revelations are troubling for a whole host of reasons. The UK intelligence agencies' bulk collection of communications data and personal data has been shown to be as vast we have always imagined – it sweeps in almost everyone, including human rights organisations like Privacy International.

“Not only was Privacy International caught up in the surveillance dragnet, its data was actually examined by agents from the UK's domestic-facing intelligence agency – MI5. We do not know why MI5 reviewed Privacy International's data, but the fact that it happened at all should raise serious questions for all of us.

"Should a domestic intelligence agency charged with protecting national security be spying on a human rights organisation based in London? Shouldn't such spying, if permitted at all, be subject to the strictest of safeguards? In an era when human rights and democracy are under threat all over the world, the UK should demonstrate leadership by protecting human rights defenders.

“Privacy International therefore urges the UK Government to critically examine its mass surveillance powers, as enshrined in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. They have now been called into question twice in two weeks - by today's revelations and by last week's judgment from the European Court of Human Rights.

"The UK should be a beacon of light in a world where democracy is under threat. Its refusal to curtail the mass surveillance powers of its intelligence agencies casts a shadow over all of us."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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