Employees of the UK’s security and intelligence services – Mi5, Mi6 and GCHQ – have been fired for inappropriately accessing personal data acquired through bulk surveillance operations, according to a new report from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
‘Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework‘ [PDF link] was released today and is the first comprehensive review of the UK’s surveillance capabilities by MPs.
It reveals how the intelligence agencies gather Bulk Personal Datasets – large databases containing personal information about a wide range of people – and how those resources have been apparently been abused by some employees.
The report states that “to date there has only been one case where GCHQ have dismissed a member of staff for misusing access to GCHQ’s systems” but later says “each agency reported that they had disciplined – or in some cases dismissed – staff for inappropriately accessing personal information held in these datasets in recent years.”
The source for that disclosure is redacted in the document.
The committee argues that Britain’s laws governing the intelligence agencies and how they undertake surveillance should be overhauled to make them more transparent and understandable.
However, the conclusion of its 18-month inquiry is that existing laws are not being broken by the organizations and that bulk data collection does not amount to mass surveillance or threaten individual privacy.
Campaign group Privacy International, which recently launched a campaign to help people find out if GCHQ had illegally spied on them, says:
“The UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s report provides a long-awaited official confirmation that the British government is engaging in mass surveillance of communications. Far from allaying the public’s concerns, the ISC’s report should trouble every single person who uses a computer or mobile phone: it describes in great detail how the security services are intercepting billions of communications each day and interrogating those communications against thousands of selection fields.
“The ISC has attempted to mask the reality of its admissions by describing GCHQ’s actions as “bulk interception”. However, no amount of technical and legal jargon can obscure the fact that this is a parliamentary committee, in a democratic country, telling its citizens that they are living in a surveillance state and that all is well.”
Discussions on redrafting the UK’s surveillance laws won’t begin until after the General Election in May.
➤ Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework [Intelligence and Security Committee]
Image credit: GCHQ