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UK Spy Agencies 'Acted Outside the Law' Collecting Citizens' Data

CC0 / / Personal data
Personal data - Sputnik International
The bulk collection of citizen data by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) between 1998 and 2015 was illegal, according to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

The ruling made by the IPT, means GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 broke the rules when they collected masses of data belonging to UK citizens.

"This is the first time we've seen what is being done with the data; it seems they have been using it to find out people's birthdays and their finances," Yair Cohen, a social media lawyer told Sputnik.

"What the court has ruled is that the security services acted outside of the law. On one hand you want to give the security agencies a legal framework to operate in — and you can give them all the powers you need — but while parliament debates what that framework is, the security services are operating outside of it," Mr. Cohen said.

​The case against GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was brought to court by Privacy International, which has called the judgement "highly significant."

"The key aspect is that [the security services] were operating these regimes without the public knowing, but also without parliament knowing. When you have regimes that obtain vast quantities of bulk data without anybody knowing, without any adequate oversight, it leaves the regime open to misuse," Privacy International's legal officer, Millie Graham Wood told Sputnik on the day of the ruling, Monday (October 17).

​The ruling made by the IPT, said some data collection did not comply with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). However, it added that sufficient statutory supervision was implemented in 2015, which allows the spying agencies to continue collecting data due to the small tweaks in the law.

"The commissioners also commented that there was bad record-keeping in relation to what directions had been made for the collection of bulk data. These regimes can't operate outside the law. They need to be foreseeable and accessible," Ms. Graham Wood added.

A representative of GCHQ points to a screen - Sputnik International
British Spy Agencies GCHQ, MI5, MI6 Found Guilty of Illegal Tapping Over Decades
The mass collection of swathes of UK citizens' data was initially revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and exposed the practices of GCHQ which were to infiltrate Internet cables and cellphone communication channels to build profiles of people. 

The IPT ruled that this was illegal as there was no legal framework governing how this information was then used.

"There are vast amounts of personal data relating to individuals on the Internet and the gathering of that data poses a danger that it could be used for commercial espionage purposes," Mr. Cohen told Sputnik.

However, according to Yair Cohen, the British public, "seem to care very little about these issues."

"Sometimes, security issues are brought to our attention as and when we find out about breaches, but there's very much a 'well it doesn't affect me' and 'I don't care much about it,' [attitude] which I find rather surprising," he said.

​The UK Government's Investigatory Powers Bill is in its final stage before being passed by Parliament. According to Privacy International, the law will allow agencies unprecedented powers to spy and collect citizens' data.

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