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Surveillance Nation: Revelations of Secret Spying by UK Gov't Agencies

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The release of previously confidential documents, in the wake of a case brought by UK charity Privacy International, sees the UK Government facing accusations of extensive surveillance through so-called "Bulk Personal Datasets."

Bulk Personal Datasets have been the subject of controversy ever since the euphemistic term was coined last year. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal — which oversees intelligence services in the UK — ruled that mass surveillance was not permitted under law, however documents revealed by Privacy International appear to show that GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 have routinely gathered personal data from potentially thousands of organizations. 

The sort of data that has been accessed includes that held by financial institutions, confidential NHS records and even databases of people who have signed online petitions. 

Privacy International told Sputnik that they hadn't received enough information from agencies to speculate as to what this data might be used for, although they said "the volume of data collected would allow for profiling."

The documents show that much of the bulk acquisition of data was justified via Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984, but given that such legislation pre-dates the Internet, Privacy International claims that the act "was never intended to enable this level of intrusion in a digital age."

The Government's Investigatory Powers Bill — nicknamed the Snoopers' Charter — which is currently being debated in UK parliament, has been widely criticized with regards to its approach to mass surveillance, and Privacy International's Millie Graham Wood believes it will be used to make this sort of bulk data collection more easy. 

"The agencies have been doing this for 15 years in secret and are now quietly trying to put these powers on the statute book for the first time… These documents reveal a lack of openness and transparency with the public about these staggering powers and a failure to subject them to effective Parliamentary scrutiny."

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The UK Government's Investigatory Powers Bill will not apply retrospectively, but Wood believes "it will legislate for similar powers without open and transparent scrutiny as to what they have been used for and will be used for in the future."

Privacy International said that the papers released Thursday are proof of a large scale surveillance operation on the part of UK intelligence agencies which not only monitors text messages, emails and social media posts, but — as Privacy International put it — "agencies have secretly given themselves access to potentially any and all recorded information about us."

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