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Intelligence agencies admit gathering data from privacy group

PRIVATE DATA from human rights organisation Privacy International (PI) was captured and read by Britain’s intelligence agencies, MI5 admitted yesterday.

MI5 said the data was collected as part of its Bulk Communications Data (BCD) and Bulk Personal Datasets (BPD) programmes, which “hoover up” public information.

All three of Britain’s primary intelligence agencies, GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, acknowledged having unlawfully gathered data about PI or its staff in documents published in response to the organisation’s legal challenge to BPD and BCD powers, currently pending before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The agencies have previously denied that the programmes can conduct surveillance of people not suspected of wrongdoing.

The disclosure comes less than a fortnight after British laws on mass surveillance were ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.

Mass interception programmes were criticised by the court because of a “lack of oversight and safeguards” on how the data is collected, searched and accessed.

PI general counsel Caroline Wilson Palow called the news “troubling for a whole host of reasons.”

“The UK intelligence agencies’ bulk collection of communications data and personal data has been shown to be as vast as we have always imagined – it sweeps in almost everyone,” she said.

“Should a domestic intelligence agency charged with protecting national security be spying on a human rights organisation based in London? Shouldn’t such spying, if permitted at all, be subject to the strictest of safeguards?

“In an era when human rights and democracy are under threat all over the world, the UK should demonstrate leadership by protecting human rights defenders.”

PI is calling on the government to “critically examine” its mass surveillance powers and has written to Home Secretary  Sajid Javid pressing for urgent action.

“The UK should be a beacon of light in a world where democracy is under threat. Its refusal to curtail the mass surveillance powers of its intelligence agencies casts a shadow over all of us,” Ms Wilson Palow added.

PI also wants MI5 to provide a full explanation of the “circumstances behind their surveillance.”

The Home Office did not respond to the Star’s request for comment before the paper went to press.

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