UK spies sued over phone data collection scheme already banned in US

UK intelligence agencies still collect phone data in bulk, while that practice was banned in the US, Privacy International said

The foyer of the UK's GCHQ intelligence agency in Cheltenham, UK

The foyer of the UK's GCHQ intelligence agency in Cheltenham, UK

In an effort to put an end to the bulk data collection of phone records and other large datasets from millions of people, campaign group Privacy International has filed a complaint with a U.K. court.

The complaint was filed with the U.K. Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which deals with claims against U.K. intelligence agencies, including the country's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It is meant to put an end to bulk data collection that was already banned in the U.S.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed the USA Freedom Actwhich put a stop to the old U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of domestic telephone records, restoring a limited telephone records program.

The U.S. is so much further ahead on the issue than the U.K., the campaign group said, adding that the bulk collection of data of millions of people who have no ties to terrorism and are not suspected of any crime is plainly wrong.

In the U.K., intelligence agencies also collect bulk personal datasets, a report by the U.K. Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee showed in March. The Committee considered the bulk collection of data to be relevant to national security investigations.

According to GCHQ, bulk data collection is an increasingly important tool to identify people they have an interest in, the partly redacted report said. The datasets vary in size "from hundreds to millions of records", and where possible, they may be linked together so that analysts can quickly find all the information linked to a "selector" such as a phone number, it said.

While this kind of investigation is described as "highly intrusive", the report does not reveal which datasets have been collected, Privacy International noted, adding that there is no proper legal regime in place to restrict the bulk collection of data. Moreover, the collection of bulk data is not authorized by a judge or minister, the group said, and called for strong safeguards to prevent misuse of the collected data.

Telecommunications companies are required to store records detailing the who, where and when of every phone call made under the country's Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA). Privacy International believes GCHQ then collects those phone records in bulk. Similar powers could be used to collect data from other databases such as medical records, financial records and travel records in bulk, the group said.

The legality of DRIPA is also being challenged by two members of the British Parliament and U.K. human rights organization Liberty. Their case was heard by the London High Court last week.

Privacy International's complaint comes on top of earlier complaints filed together with other groups against GCHQ mass surveillance practices in the U.K. The groups are waiting for a final judgement in those cases.

Two complaints were also filed against GCHQ over hacking powers, while there is also a legal challenge against mass surveillance pending at the European Court of Human Rights.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Privacy InternationalsecurityU.S. National Security AgencyCivil lawsuitslegalU.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)data protectionprivacy

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Loek Essers

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?