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October 17, 2016

GCHQ, MI5 & MI6 data collection ‘unlawful’, rules tribunal

Latest privacy ruling may further the debate surrounding the Snoopers' Charter.

By Ellie Burns

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has ruled that UK spy agencies broke privacy rules by collecting huge amounts of UK citizens’ data without adequate oversight. Data practices of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 were put under the spotlight when campaign group Privacy International complained about the agencies’ data collection.

Although an official policy about how data collection should be carried out lawfully was put in place in February 2015, the Tribunal ruled that some data collection prior to this policy coming into force did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Although GCHQ argued that such data collection was ‘vital for identifying and

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. GCHQ is one of the three UK Intelligence Agencies and forms a crucial part of the UK’s National Intelligence and Security machinery. The National Security Strategy sets out the challenges of a changing and uncertain world and places cyber attack in the top tier of risks, alongside international terrorism, a major industrial accident or natural disaster, and international military crisis. GCHQ, in concert with Security Service (also known as MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6) play a key role across all of these areas and more. Their work drives the UK Government’s response to world events and enables strategic goals overseas.

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

developing intelligence targets’, Article 8 of ECHR ensures that all citizens have the right to a private life and that any interference with personal data must be lawful and necessary.

The tribunal found that data collected by the agencies, specifically personal datasets, did not comply with Article 8 and were ‘unlawful.’

The Home Office in a statement said: The powers available to the security and intelligence agencies play a vital role in protecting the UK and its citizens.

“We are therefore pleased the tribunal has confirmed the current lawfulness of the existing bulk communications data and bulk personal dataset regimes.”

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This latest development regarding the government and data collection will be sure to fuel the ongoing debate around the Snoopers’ Charter, or IP Bill as it is officially known.

The IP Bill also presses for more powers over bulk data collection, with a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights saying that the bulk collection powers were “inherently compatible” with the right to respect for private life.

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