Another day, another spying agency is caught red-handed overreaching its powers, and even abusing citizen’s personal data. Today, it’s the turn of UK’s domestic security agency MI5, who have been exposed for “undoubtedly illegal handling of large amounts of personal data.”
The BBC said this citing the findings of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, whose office (IPCO) provides independent oversight of intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The accusations against MI5 emerged in UK’s High Court as part of a case brought by Liberty, a civil rights group, against portions of the much-maligned Investigatory Powers Act – also known as “Snoopers Charter.”
As part of the complaint, Liberty accused MI5 of collecting regular citizens’ data and retaining it illegally for a number of years.
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This is a point Commissioner Adrian Fulford has now confirmed, according to the BBC.
And while secrecy goes hand in hand with an agency like MI5, Liberty accused them of extending it to what should be the unlikeliest of places: keeping their transgressions in the handling of the vast amounts of gathered data a secret from the government, the prime minister, the IPCO, and the public.
And while the Investigatory Powers Act allows MI5 to act on court warrants to gather massive amounts of information about ordinary citizens, including their location, phone calls, and browsing history, the agency is supposed to work within the bounds of “safeguards” on storing this data safely, and for a limited amount of time.
But Fulford told the court these rules were not respected, and that the behavior was nothing new when it comes to MI5 – in this particular case, it was revealed that the agency’s senior leaders knew “for three years” that the data was being mishandled.
The commissioner also announced that going forward, the agency would face “greater scrutiny by judges when seeking warrants.”
Among the data retained by MI5 were lawyer-client communications, Liberty revealed.
Legal representatives of UK’s home and foreign secretaries, who took part in the proceedings, promised MI5 would now start acting lawfully on this issue, but also asserted the incident was “completely irrelevant” to Liberty’s overall case against the Snoopers Charter.
Lawyers for MI5, meanwhile, pulled the national security card when they refused to explain “the exact nature of the breaches, in open court.”