Newly released documents reveal the “staggering extent” of the British government’s mass surveillance of its citizens, ongoing since at least the 1990s, and its 15-year coverup of those operations.
The documents, acquired by the London-based watchdog group Privacy International, show that the UK’s intelligence agencies—MI5, MI6, and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)—”routinely requisition personal data from potentially thousands of public and private organizations” under Section 94 of the 1984 Telecommunications Act.
That includes financial data; confidential health records; travel records; content of communications, including with lawyers, doctors, and ministers of Parliament; and personal online activity, such as petition signing, among other data. The documents also show that agencies continued to request information on scores of citizens despite privately acknowledging (pdf) that it is “unlikely to be of intelligence or security interest.”
Privacy International obtained the documents as part of an ongoing case about the use of these so-called “Bulk Personal Datasets” and the 1984 law, which the group describes as “pre-internet legislation that was never intended to enable this level of intrusion in a digital age.” A trial will take place later this summer at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which hears cases about surveillance and intelligence.
“The information revealed by this disclosure shows the staggering extent to which the intelligence agencies hoover up our data,” said Millie Graham Wood, legal officer at Privacy International. “This can be anything from your private medical records, your correspondence with your doctor or lawyer, even what petitions you have signed, your financial data, and commercial activities.”