UK spying agencies secretly and unlawfully collected and stored personal data of Britons for 17 years, according to a court ruling.
MI5, MI6 and GCHQ collected data on everyone’s communications between 1998 and 2015, according to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the watchdog for intelligence agencies.
The agencies tracked individual phone and web use and other confidential information without having adequate safeguards or supervision, senior judges ruled on Monday.
They did not abide by article 8 protecting the right to privacy of the European convention of human rights (ECHR), they added.
“The BPD (bulk personal datasets) regime failed to comply with the ECHR principles, which we have above set out throughout the period prior to its avowal in March 2015. The BCD (bulk communications data) regime failed to comply with such principles in the period prior to its avowal in November 2015, and the institution of a more adequate system of supervision as at the same date,” the ruling stated.
Spying agencies, however, will still be able to continue to do so due to small tweaks to the law that allow them to flout the ruling.
Millie Graham Wood, legal officer at Privacy International, said “today's judgment is a long overdue indictment of UK surveillance agencies riding roughshod over our democracy and secretly spying on a massive scale.”
“There are huge risks associated with the use of bulk communications data,” Wood said. “It facilitates the almost instantaneous cataloging of entire populations' personal data.”
According to Privacy campaigners, the ruling was “one of the most significant indictments of the secret use of the government’s mass surveillance powers” since Edward Snowden, a former contractor of the US National Security Agency, who first released the extent of American and British surveillance of citizens in 2013.
Secret documents leaked by Snowden also revealed that the GCHQ and the NSA had monitored more than 1,000 targets in at least 60 countries between 2008 and 2011 by secretly accessing cable networks carrying the world’s phone calls and internet traffic.