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Documents reveal extent of UK intelligence agencies' data requests

New documents revealing the full extent of the UK's surveillance programs, along with the MI5's amassing of large amounts of “anonymised” financial data, have been obtained by the campaign group Privacy International to help it prepare for an upcoming Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The tribunal hearing, which will take place this July, handles complaints made against the MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Privacy International will be challenging how the agencies used and acquired large amounts of personal data collected from both public and private organisations.

Home Office has repeatedly and consistently refused to list what datasets the various intelligence agencies of the UK hold. These new documents shed some light on just what kind of information the agencies were able to request which included medical information, financial information and information regarding internet and telephone conversations.

According to Privacy International: “The intelligence agencies have secretly given themselves access to potentially any and all recorded information about us”. Home Office has responded by claiming that the bulk data has been necessary for security and intelligence agencies to gain vital and unique intelligence.

The documents show that since July 2005, Home Secretaries have given MI5 authorisation to collect information from network providers and store it in a database. Telephone data and internet data would be collected but the content of the communications themselves would not be stored by the agency.

The MI5 says that it deletes the data every 12 months but in the documents this data is referred to as being of “significant security value.”

Misuse of the data was also revealed in the documents which cite examples of MI6 employees using it to look up addresses to send out birthday cards and checking the details of family members for personal reasons.

When the Investigatory Powers Tribunal is held this July, the intelligence agencies of the UK will have to do a lot of convincing to justify the collection and storage of such a vast amount of personal data.

Image source: Shutterstock/Maksim Kabakou

Anthony Spadafora
After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal.