UK SPOOKS HAVE FESSED-UP to unlawfully snooping on and sifting through the private data of Privacy International, all thanks to bulk data collection.
As part of the MI5's Bulk Communications Data and Bulk Personal Data programmes, supposedly used to detect criminal and terrorist activity, Britain's domestic intelligence agency ended up gathering and perusing Privacy International's private data.
And it wasn't the only one, as other UK spook conclaves, GCHQ and MI6, were also found to have collected the charity's data.
But all three were forced to admit they'd be carrying out such unlawful data collection as documents were published that revealed Privacy International has been caught up in MI5's investigations due to the charity's data being in the vast databases British intelligence has.
Privacy International noted, in a somewhat own trumpet blowing fashion, that this all came to light as part of its legal challenge against bulk data collection powers.
Having a look through the case notes ourselves - and bearing in mind we're journalists, not lawyers - it looks like the data held on Privacy International almost seemed to be more a quirk of bulk data collection as opposed to active spying against Privacy International.
Not that such an activity excuses the intelligence services; it arguably demonstrates that bulk data collection isn't a great intelligence gathering technique.
Privacy International told us that from the case notes it could infer that there was some direct investigation into the charity or members of its staff at least, due to how data was used as "Workings" by MI5.
Unsurprisingly, Caroline Wilson Palow, general counsel at Privacy International was hardly impressed by the snooping.
"Today's revelations are troubling for a whole host of reasons. The UK intelligence agencies' bulk collection of communications data and personal data has been shown to be as vast we have always imagined - it sweeps in almost everyone, including human rights organisations like Privacy International," Palow said.
"Not only was Privacy International caught up in the surveillance dragnet, its data was actually examined by agents from the UK's domestic-facing intelligence agency - MI5. We do not know why MI5 reviewed Privacy International's data, but the fact that it happened at all should raise serious questions for all of us.
"Should a domestic intelligence agency charged with protecting national security be spying on a human rights organisation based in London? Shouldn't such spying, if permitted at all, be subject to the strictest of safeguards? In an era when human rights and democracy are under threat all over the world, the UK should demonstrate leadership by protecting human rights defenders."
Privacy Intentional is now asking for MI5 to clarify why it snooped on the charity, as well as writing an open letter to Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, expressing concern at the snooping and asking him to confirm ht changes he'll make to the Investigatory Powers Act as a result of the European Court of Human Right's judgment against it last week.
We approached the Home Office for comment - MI5 doesn't sully itself with the unwashed public directly - but we've yet to get a response.
Breaching the privacy of a charity that makes privacy its raison du etre is one of the dumbest things we've heard. And it's dryly amusing that it comes from MI5, which has apparently got a good track record of being pretty decent at intelligence work.
As such, we wouldn't be surprised if this isn't the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to bulk data collection, as the UK intelligence agencies and government has basically given Privacy International an almighty big stick to brandish at them. µ
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