Menu
UK spy agencies illegally collected data for years, court rules

UK spy agencies illegally collected data for years, court rules

The UK's secret intelligence agencies breached European human rights legislation by secretly collecting communications and personal data in bulk

The U.K.'s spy agencies breached the European Convention on Human Rights for years by secretly collecting almost everything about British citizens' communications except their content, a U.K. court has ruled.

However, now that the U.K. government has admitted what it is doing, the collection is legal, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled Monday.

It has yet to rule on the issue of proportionality, or whether the agencies' actions were reasonable given the threat they sought to counter.

Responding to a June 2015 complaint by campaign group Privacy International, the tribunal said the secret intelligence agencies had breached the ECHR for years because of the way they gathered bulk communications data (BCD) and bulk personal data (BPD).

The bulk communications data at issue included who contacted whom, when, where and with what equipment, who paid for the call, and how much they paid.

"Just about the only information not included is the content of communications," the tribunal said in its ruling. Legally collecting that content would have required an interception warrant.

In principle, the government may allow the intelligence agencies to collect communications data from network operators under a 1984 law, the tribunal ruled.

However, whether that collection was necessary and proportional is another matter: When the 1984 law was drafted, the tribunal noted, there were no mobile phones and no public internet. Subscriber information was for the most part published in printed directories, so all that network operators could have offered the Security Service and the then officially non-existent Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was subscriber information for unlisted numbers, and call records, the tribunal noted.

The agencies also gathered bulk personal data, including passport databases, telephone directories, and banking records -- even though, the spy agencies acknowledged in a court filing, the majority of the people affected are unlikely to be of intelligence interest.

Rules for collection of bulk personal data are not defined in legislation, the tribunal noted. The bulk data gathering remained secret until March 2015, while the collection of bulk communication data was only admitted by the U.K. government in November 2015.

While it remained a secret, the collection of both types of data was in breach of the ECHR. After the government admitted what it was doing, and set out oversight rules and a code of practice for the data collection, it became "foreseeable," and so legal, as the citizens being spied on could foresee the consequences of their actions, the tribunal ruled.

Following the ruling, Privacy International legal officer Millie Graham Wood said the use of bulk communications data poses huge risks.

"It is unacceptable that it is only through litigation by a charity that we have learned the extent of these powers and how they are used," she said. She called for public confirmation that unlawfully obtained personal data will be destroyed.


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Events

Featured

Slideshows

Meet the Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 winners

Meet the Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 winners

This year’s Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards were held as an integral part of the first entirely virtual Emerging Leaders​ forum, an annual event dedicated to identifying, educating and showcasing the New Zealand technology market’s rising stars. The 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 recognised the outstanding achievements and business excellence of 30 talented individuals​, across both young leaders and those just starting out. In this slideshow, Reseller News honours this year's winners and captures their thoughts about how their ideas of leadership have changed over time.​

Meet the Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 winners
Reseller News Exchange Auckland: Beyond the myths — how partners can master cloud security

Reseller News Exchange Auckland: Beyond the myths — how partners can master cloud security

This exclusive Reseller News Exchange event in Auckland explored the challenges facing the partner community on the cloud security frontier, as well as market trends, customer priorities and how the channel can capitalise on the opportunities available. In association with Arrow, Bitdefender, Exclusive Networks, Fortinet and Palo Alto Networks. Photos by Gino Demeer.

Reseller News Exchange Auckland: Beyond the myths — how partners can master cloud security
Reseller News welcomes industry figures at 2020 Hall of Fame lunch

Reseller News welcomes industry figures at 2020 Hall of Fame lunch

Reseller News welcomed 2019 inductees - Leanne Buer, Ross Jenkins and Terry Dunn - to the fourth running of the Reseller News Hall of Fame lunch, held at the French Cafe in Auckland. The inductees discussed the changing face of the IT channel ecosystem in New Zealand and what it means to be a Reseller News Hall of Fame inductee. Photos by Gino Demeer.

Reseller News welcomes industry figures at 2020 Hall of Fame lunch
Show Comments