PRESSURE AND RIGHTS GROUP Privacy International has released a huge whack of documents rammed with dirt on GCHQ and its habit of grabbing personal information and communications.
The documents show that successive home secretaries have allowed this to carry on since at least 2005.
The Privacy International report said that the documents go back to 1998, and include details and memorandums about a range of information including passports and text messages.
"The papers released today act as proof of, and show the sheer scale of, British intelligence agency surveillance of our personal data," the organisation said.
"It goes far beyond monitoring our text messages, email messages and social media posts. The intelligence agencies have secretly given themselves access to potentially any and all recorded information about us.
"The documents reveal the potential to requisition medical records and confidential information shared with a doctor (including blood group, physical characteristics (hair/eye colour), biometrics, travel records, financial records, population data, commercial data (details of corporations and individuals involved in commercial activities), regular feeds from internet and phone companies, billing data or subscriber details, content of communications (including with lawyers, MPs or doctors) and records from government departments."
Privacy International said that there are hundreds of millions of records at GCHQ's disposal and that the agency has the means to make some sort of sense of them.
We have asked GCHQ for its response to the papers but have not yet received a reply. Privacy International is much more chatty.
"The information revealed by this disclosure shows the staggering extent to which the intelligence agencies hoover up our data. This highly sensitive information about us is vulnerable to attack from hackers, foreign governments and criminals," said Millie Graham Wood, legal officer at Privacy International.
"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, which is currently being debated in Parliament.
"These documents reveal a lack of openness and transparency with the public about these staggering powers and a failure to subject them to effective Parliamentary scrutiny."
This sort of thing does not go down well in all quarters, never mind just at Privacy International, and even the technology industry has an oar to shove in.
"The UK government and its intelligence agencies are watching UK citizens as if they were criminals," said Jacob Ginsberg, senior director at email encryption firm Echoworx.
"This kind of cyber surveillance is no different to old-school wire-tapping. However, a wiretap may be approved by a court only if evidence of reasonable suspicion can be found.
"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."
We can't wait to hear what GCHQ says. µ
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