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UK intelligence services report highlights secret service failings

Too many already, but not enough investigation
Fri Jun 27 2014, 15:12
A report into government spying has been criticised as 'weak'

THE UK Intelligence Services Commissioner has delivered his report on the present state of the UK surveillance system and found it to be lacking in accuracy.

Sir Mark Waller, the intelligence services commissioner, has reviewed a series of surveillance cases by government departments and agencies MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. He said that he studied some 300 cases and found problems with 10 percent of them.

Although he found problems, he accepted that it was perhaps more mistakes than malice that was the cause.

"Although these are correctable slips they are still unacceptable," he said. "I have recommended that the agencies put in place procedures to prevent further reoccurrence and I will continue to monitor this." (PDF).

MI5 was the most blighted, and Waller found 19 issues with some 112 cases.

The biggest issue seems to have been privacy and Waller said that while he understood that mistakes happen, he made it clear that he would rather they did not.

"Of the 19 errors all were caused by human error and all resulted in intrusion into privacy to some degree," he said. "In most instances I was satisfied with the answers but still discussed the errors during my inspection and made clear that any error, but especially those which led to intrusion into privacy, were not acceptable."

10 issues were found at MI6 and again the cause was procedural problems. Three mistakes happened at GCHQ and the ministry of defence and home office each deserved credit for a handful.

Prime Minister Dave Cameron told MPs that the mistakes are "regrettable".

"The commissioner's report provides a complete summary of the inspection regime that he has undertaken. It shows that the agencies, ministry of defence personnel, civil servants and secretaries of state understand their responsibilities and comply with the law," he said to ministers.

"Sir Mark's report sets out a number of instances in which human error has resulted in regrettable administrative errors. In these instances the commissioner has satisfied himself that these errors were not deliberate and has suggested changes to ensure that they are not repeated."

Big Brother Watch, a UK citizens rights group,called the report and the commissioner 'weak' in its response, adding that it was hamstrung by its own limits. The current system is not strong enough, it advised, and the commissioner should aim to check around 50 percent of warrants.

"With only 17 percent of warrants being checked by the commissioner, serious questions have also been raised about how thorough his investigations can actually be. It is not unfair to suggest that at present the oversight by the Commissioner is weak and his accountability to parliament and the public is almost nonexistent," it said.

"A part time commissioner with only one member of staff cannot reasonably provide adequate oversight of the use of intrusive surveillance powers."

Rachel Robinson, policy officer at Liberty, was unimpressed and called the rate of failure "shockingly high".

"The shockingly high error rate of the spooks it exposes makes a mockery of people's privacy," she said.

"That our intelligence services have supposedly complied with the rusting provisions of RIPA - but may well have fallen foul of human rights protections regardless - is further proof of the need for a total overhaul of our outdated surveillance laws." µ


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