Campaigners reveal government's secret spying regime

The scale of mass data surveillance in the UK is far more sweeping than the government's official proposals currently being considered by Parliament, documents have revealed.

Security services MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have used Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 to justify gathering hundreds of millions of records onBritish citizens and other UK residents for the last 15 years, Privacy International found.

Spy agency analysts can then link together these records using filters such as telephone numbers or other values, the campaign group said, after receiving the documents as it prepares for a tribunal ontheInvestigatory Powers Bill.

Section 94 has also enabled them to access data outside the protection of the existing Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and even goes beyond the powers proposed in the Investigatory Powers Bill,the government's proposed legislation that would force internet service providers to collect and hold certain data on people's web browsing histories for up to a year.

This is because section 94potentially allowed for the collection of medical and biometric data, such as blood type and hair and eye colour, though there is no indication that these kinds of information have been collected.

The existence of Bulk Personal Datasets (BPDs), as they are called, was first revealed in March 2015 in an Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) report, however, they have existed for the past 15 years without the knowledge of the public or Parliament.

Millie Graham Wood, legal officer at Privacy International said: "The information revealed by this disclosure shows the staggering extent to which the intelligence agencies hoover up our data.

"This can be anything from your private medical records, your correspondence with your doctor or lawyer, even what petitions you have signed, your financial data, and commercial activities."

"The agencies have been doing this for 15 years in secret and are now quietly trying to put these powers on the statute book for the first time, in the Investigatory Powers Bill," she added.

Jacob Ginsberg, senior director of encryption software company Echoworx and outspoken opponent of Investigatory Powers, said: "The UK government and its intelligence agencies are watching UK citizens as if they were criminals."

"The government should not be allowed to circumvent existing laws that have been put in place to protect law-abiding citizens from potentially harmful intrusion. Having the power to sweep someone's phone records, financial data, medical records and internet communications without a warrant during bulk data collection is morally wrong," he added.

The details of the case and associated documents can be read here.

Jane McCallion
Deputy Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's Managing Editor, specializing in data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Managing Editor, she held the role of Deputy Editor and, prior to that, Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialize in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.