UK spies did not misuse powers for mass surveillance, watchdog says

UK agencies haven't the 'slightest interest' in examining emails and phone calls, a report says

British intelligence agencies do not misuse their powers to engage in random mass intrusion into the communications of law-abiding U.K. citizens, a government watchdog said in an annual report.

In a report released Tuesday, U.K. Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Anthony May, discussed disclosures based on documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about what had been secret surveillance programs of the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ. The commissioner's job is to ensure that government agencies follow laws when intercepting communications and he works independently of the government.

It is "quite clear" that people who do not associate with potential terrorists or serious criminals, or engage in other actions that could threaten national security are of no interest to surveillance agencies, he wrote.

"[It] can be assured that none of the interception agencies which I inspect has the slightest interest in examining their emails, their phone or postal communications or their use of the internet, and they do not do so to any extent which could reasonably be regarded as significant," May wrote in the report.

Moreover, British intelligence agencies do not circumvent U.K. laws by receiving material from U.S. agencies about British citizens that could not be lawfully obtained in the U.K., he said.

While May was not able to confirm or deny information reportedly obtained from files leaked by Snowden to the media, the commissioner had unrestricted access to all information, however sensitive, from public authorities, he noted in the report.

In 2013, police and other authorities made 514,608 requests to acquire communications data that were approved, according to the report.

However, the number of people whose data was obtained is probably much smaller because multiple requests could involve the same individual. The number of individual people whose data was acquired by authorities is not currently broken out in the figures reported to May. But the commissioner said that in his opinion the number may be too high,

"At face value, it seems to me to be a very large number. It has the feel of being too many," May wrote, adding that he asked his inspectors to see if there might be "a significant institutional overuse" of data-gathering powers. This investigation will focus on police and law enforcement agencies, which account for about 90 percent of the requests, May said.

The report was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron and the Parliament.

The government is considering the report's recommendations and will respond in due course, Cameron said in a written statement.

"I believe his report provides an authoritative, expert and reassuring assessment of the lawfulness, necessity and proportionality of the intelligence agencies' work," he wrote.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in an emailed statement: "It makes clear the intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other public authorities operate lawfully, conscientiously and in the national interest and, importantly, do not engage in indiscriminate and random mass surveillance." She added that communications data is "vital" in helping to keep the public safe

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues 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 securityU.S. National Security AgencylegalGCHQprivacy

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

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?