UK Tribunal Says Spy Agencies Illegally Collected Communications Data In Bulk For More Than A Decade

from the 17-years-of-bulk-rogering dept

A big ruling has been handed down by the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal, stating that intelligence agencies' (GCHQ, MI5, MI6) bulk data collection has been illegal since its inception.

The ruling said the regime governing the collection of bulk communications data – the who, where, when and what of personal phone and web communications – failed to comply with article 8 protecting the right to privacy of the European convention of human rights (ECHR) between 1998, when it started, and 4 November 2015, when it was made public.

It said the holding of bulk personal datasets (BPD) – which might include medical and tax records, individual biographical details, commercial and financial activities, communications and travel data – also failed to comply with article 8 for the decade it was in operation until its public avowal in March 2015.

This ruling comes at a particularly opportune time -- just as the UK government is putting the finishing touches on another investigatory powers bill: the so-called Snooper's Charter. But not necessarily because this will deter GCHQ from further bulk data collections. In fact, the ruling may give pro-surveillance politicians a better idea of how to make future collections stand up to legal challenges.

On the other hand, the tribunal's examination of the case uncovered some interesting statements by agency insiders who rather presciently noted the press would have a field day if information about the programs were ever made public. (The statement also shows the agency was prepared to head off backlash by questioning the media's truthiness.)

The IPT ruling included the disclosure from an unpublished 2010 MI5 policy statement that the “bulk personal datasets” include material on the nation’s personal financial activities. “The fact that the service holds bulk financial, albeit anonymised, data is assessed to be a high corporate risk, since there is no public expectation that the service will hold or have access to this data in bulk. Were it to become widely known that the service held this data, the media response would most likely be unfavourable and probably inaccurate,” it says.

The ruling is the end result of Privacy International's multiple legal challenges to British spying powers. Even though this is a win for PI, the charity also notes that no ruling was made on how the illegally-obtained datasets should be disposed of… or if they even will be.

The UK government responded to the ruling showing it had "overseen" more than a decade's-worth of illegal data collection with a cheerily tone deaf, "Things are so much better now!"

"The powers available to the security and intelligence agencies play a vital role in protecting the UK and its citizens. We are therefore pleased the tribunal has confirmed the current lawfulness of the existing bulk communications data and bulk personal dataset regimes.

Through the investigatory powers bill, the government is committed to providing greater transparency and stronger safeguards for all of the bulk powers available to the agencies."

It's not the stuff that's gone on for years. That's apparently not important. No, UK citizens need to keep their eyes on the prize: the ten months or so of legal spying UK intelligence agencies have been engaged in, as well as the eventual codification of other possibly-illegal surveillance programs.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2016 @ 11:05am

    This could be a very good thing. We know that since both the NSA and its British counterpart harvest and copy all emails in transit, there must be at least two copies that exist of Hillary's "missing" emails.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2016 @ 11:08am

    Oh please....

    News Flash! Government is spying, everyone already knows it so what are we gaining from this?

    No governments are not going to stop spying, it's fucking stupid to even think it will change. As long as government gets to have secrets and rubber stamp "cuz terrorism" on it's product labels, nothing is going to change. Not a fucking thing! Oh, sorry, I was wrong about that, something IS going to change... likely it will be more assaults against privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 17 Oct 2016 @ 12:40pm

    everyone involved should be sent to jail for multiple life sentences for blatantly violating their nations laws and citizen rights.

    Course that will never happen as they know they will not be held accountable as long as their governments continue to be for the elite at the expense of everyone below them.

    Tyranny for all or revolutions in all the former "first world" nations. wonder which will win in the end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2016 @ 1:01pm

    but have had the law changed so it is now legal and the info already collected, although done so illegally, they can keep! where the fuck is the sense in that? they may just as well not even bothered with a tribunal from the beginning! the UK has proven itself to be just about the worst country on the planet, from the supposed 'good countries', and doesn't give a toss about human rights, freedom or privacy! the only thing important is that the government can screw everyone as much as it likes, how it likes, over what it likes, for as long as it likes! so much for the respect it is supposed to have always had and the way it now despises everything it stood for and it's largely thanks to the good ol' US of fucking A, as usual!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Oct 2016 @ 2:55pm

    If only there were any punishments forthcoming.

    If a lowly citizen had done this sort of thing, they would have no problem destroying them... but they fear their watchmen turning their unblinking eye upon them if they try to reign in the power.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 17 Oct 2016 @ 5:04pm

    Begging to differ

    The intelligence agencies are just going to come back with, "You say po-tay-toe, we say po-tah-toe..." Then another two-decade argument will ensue, and the end result will be a shrug...because, after two decades, the argument will be incredibly moot...

    Tribunal might just as well rubber-stamp the intelligence agencies' programs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mill Wright, 18 Oct 2016 @ 12:18am

    GCHQ

    Here in the most cunning and devious state in the world the British Government will go to any length to maintain its hegemony. That means creeping through the sewers and cess pits in order to gain and use, legally or not, anything that will smear good and decent people who might just speak out against their ugly immorality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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