Following last week’s revelations that MI5 had lost control of its data storage operation and its acknowledgement that “ungoverned spaces” existed within the agency, Liberty will challenge the legality of its bulk surveillance activities.
These activities include obtaining data via social media companies, acquisition of information by compelling private companies, hacking and interception. Lawyers for Liberty argue that MI5 and GCHQ’s powers to obtain and store data breach human rights.
Phone records and email correspondence can be obtained under ‘bulk warrants’ whether or not those involved suspected of a crime or of interest to intelligence.
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In 2018, a high court ruling in favour of Liberty found that sections of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the “snoopers charter”, needed to be rewritten to comply with EU data privacy law.
In relation to the Investigatory Power Act, the government insisted that security agencies carry out only targeted searches of data under legal warrants to identify and track criminal and terrorist activity. Bulk interception was the first necessary step to do this, it added.
In last week’s investigation, MI5 was accused of obtaining surveillance warrants with information it knew to be false or incorrect.
Lord Justice Fulford, who oversees compliance with the Investigatory Powers Act, had written to MI5 saying that future applications for interception warrants “will not be approved by the judicial commissioners” unless there were improvements to its storage practices.
Released correspondence between Fulford and MI5 showed that he believed that the agency’s method of handling and holding people’s data was “undoubtedly unlawful”.
In addition to Liberty, the National Union of Journalists has become involved in the case arguing that current safeguards are inadequate to protect confidential journalistic sources. The case, which is being held at the Royal Courts of Justice in London is expected to last five days.