SECURITY AGENCY MI5 has been slammed for unlawfully retaining innocent people's private data for years, according to documents released in the High Court on Tuesday.
The 10 internal documents from MI5 and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO), seen by Liberty, show that the agency also failed to give senior judges accurate information about repeated breaches of its duty to delete bulk surveillance data, which includes sensitive information belonging to innocent citizens.
As per Liberty, whose legal challenge over the agency's "extraordinary and persistent illegality" has lead to the release of the documents, the heavily-redacted records show that MI5 failed to maintain key safeguards, such as the timely destruction of material and the protection of legally privileged material.
These compliance gaps first became clear to MI5 staff in January 2016 and the MI5 board in January 2018 but were only brought to IPCO's attention in February 2019, according to the documents.
MI5's Deputy Director General acknowledges that personal data collected by MI5 is being stored in "ungoverned spaces", the agency's legal team admitting that there is "a high likelihood [of material] being discovered when it should have been deleted, in a disclosure exercise leading to substantial legal or oversight failure."
It has also been revealed that MI5 has been obtaining surveillance warrants despite failing to meet the data handling obligations laid out in the Investigatory Powers Act, better known as the 'Snoopers Charter'.
The Commissioner has pointed out that warrants would not have been issued if breaches were known, stating: "it is impossible to sensibly reconcile the explanation of the handling of arrangements the Judicial Commissioners were given in briefings… with what MI5 knew over a protracted period of time was happening."
"Without seeking to be emotive, I consider that MI5's use of warranted data... is currently, in effect, in 'special measures' and the historical lack of compliance is of such gravity that IPCO will need to be satisfied to a greater degree than usual that it is ‘fit for purpose'," the IPCO said.
Commenting on these latest revelations, Megan Goulding, Liberty lawyer, said: "These shocking revelations expose how MI5 has been illegally mishandling our data for years, storing it when they have no legal basis to do so. This could include our most deeply sensitive information - our calls and messages, our location data, our web browsing history.
"It is unacceptable that the public is only learning now about these serious breaches after the government has been forced into revealing them in the course of Liberty's legal challenge.
"In addition to showing a flagrant disregard for our rights, MI5 has attempted to hide its mistakes by providing misinformation to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who oversees the Government's surveillance regime."
Liberty notes that, in "yet another example of the disrespect the government has for transparency, it has applied for further details on MI5'' breaches to be provided to the Court through secret evidence and private hearings.
"Despite a light being shone on this deplorable violation of our rights, the government is still trying to keep us in the dark over further examples of MI5 seriously breaching the law," Gould concludes. µ
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