UK’s MI5 accused of mismanaging mass surveillance data

“The storage of the data exceeded the time it was allowed to be stored, which means that the whole exercise can be rendered unlawful."

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Headquarters of the British Security Service (MI5) in London, UK © Reuters / Peter Nicholls
Headquarters of the British Security Service (MI5) in London, UK © Reuters / Peter Nicholls

In High Court, UK domestic counter-intelligence service MI5 was charged with violating data collection and storage privileges by storing information from private citizens in bulk without adequate protection.

MI5 has no control over its storage of vast amounts of people’s calls, emails, internet browsing history, as well as other private information that the agency has managed to acquire on the grounds of surveillance warrants that were often given under fake pretext, the High Court heard on Tuesday in a legal challenge brought by the human rights organisation Liberty.

Liberty argues that the MI5 persistently breaches the privileges of the Investigative Powers Act (IPA), which enables safety services to hack pcs and phones of people in the name of national security. The failures of the agency were identified by the head of the Office of the Commissioner of Investigative Powers (IPCO), Sir Adrian Fulford, who is responsible for safeguarding the storage and timely deletion of bulk data. In support of the claims, a series of 10 documents and letters from MI5 and IPCO were shared with the court.

For at least three years, the spy organization has been conscious of breaches of accordance with the IPA but, according to the proof submitted, has “held the deficiencies secret.” Fulford, who accused the intelligence service of “historical absence of compliance” with IPA safeguards, discovered the MI5 handling of people’s information “unquestionably unlawful.”

In addition, the spying agency is accused of misleading magistrates when applying for monitoring warrants under false certainty that the information will be properly stored. If violations were recognized, warrants for hacking would never have been given, Fulford pointed out.

MI5 have been holding on to people’s data – ordinary people’s data, your data, my data – illegally for many years,” Megan Goulding, a lawyer for Liberty, said. “Not only that, they’ve been trying to keep their really serious errors secret – secret from the security services watchdog, who’s supposed to know about them, secret from the Home Office, secret from the prime minister and secret from the public.”

According to Yair Cohen, a social media lawyer and author of the book “The Net is Closing: Birth of the e-police,” the problem here is not necessarily information collection, but how it has been stored illegally.

“This type of data has been kept in an insecure manner. It means that it was perhaps open for hundreds of people to view it…maybe there would have been leaks of the data to all sort of organizations that shouldn’t really be accessing the data for national security reasons,” Cohen explained.

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