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Mass spying – UK human rights group challenges intelligence services

Liberty is a UK-based group that's taking the government to court for breaching human rights legislation.

The civil rights organization Liberty has argued against the UK’s 2016 Investigatory Powers Act by stating that the intelligence services are exploiting “bulk hacking” powers to intrude into the private lives of millions of people. Commonly referred to as the “snooper’s charter,” the IPA has given the power to the intelligence agencies to interfere with mobiles, computers and more.

Martin Chamberlain QC, appearing for Liberty, explained to the high court that the IPA undermines articles 8 and 10 of the European convention on human rights, privacy and freedom of expression. He said that such a “wide expansion of bulk secret surveillance powers” is a major breach to human rights.

Chamberlain explained the consequences of a “bulk hacking” power and warned of the “inherent dangers” that come with it. Now, intelligence services can take the remote control of a device and exploit it for serving their purpose. Stating that intelligence services can “remote control of a device, for example, to turn mobile phones with cameras into recording devices … or to log keystrokes to capture passwords,” thereby potentially overriding any encryption.

Based on Chamberlain’s arguments, here are the potential threats of a “bulk hacking power” at the helm of intelligence services:

  • There is “the possibility of abuse of power necessarily exercised in secret and the generally chilling effect on individuals’ communications and expression of ideas caused by the existence of such powers.”
  • The IPA’s powers “permit the interception or obtaining, processing, retention, and examination of the private information of very large numbers of people – in some cases, the whole population. They also permit serious invasions of journalistic and watchdog organizations’ materials and lawyer-client communication.”
  • Intelligence agencies in Britain such as MI5 or GCHQ can interpret data that “shows, for example, that an individual has accessed a website containing information about sexual health or abortion or suicide,” and such data “would be searchable without a warrant.”

Recent security breaches such as MI5 losing control of its data storage greatly endangers people and their privacy.

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