Bulk data collection by security agencies is needed, says government terrorism watchdog


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The UK's Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has said that the bulk collection of data by the security agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ plays "an important part" in countering terrorism and that "there is a proven operational case for the three powers already in use," while there is "a distinct (though not yet proven) operational case" for a fourth proposed power. All the powers are contained in the Investigatory Powers Bill that is currently before parliament.


The review undertaken had no remit to examine whether the powers in question - bulk interception, bulk acquisition, bulk equipment interference and the collection of bulk personal datasets - are "desirable, or should be passed into law, or [to comment] on the safeguards that should be applied to them," nor to examine whether they were compatible with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights or EU law.

See: Bulk Powers Review – Report (Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, link) and: Report of the Bulk Powers Review (pdf)

The report also notes that it does not "cover the whole range of powers that could be described as bulk powers in the broader sense of that phrase."

Other powers contained in the IP Bill that would permit the "collection or retention of large quantities of data not relating to current targets," but which are not covered by the review, are:

  • the requirement for communications service providers to retain phone/email records;
  • the proposed power to require the retention of "internet connection records";
  • the "thematic interception power" covering a person or persons whose identities may be unknown;
  • and the targeting of "equipment interference" in a particular location rather than on particular individuals.

See also: Bulk data collection vital to prevent terrorism in UK, report finds (The Guardian, link): "The bulk collection of personal data by British spy agencies is vital in preventing terrorist attacks, an independent review of draft security legislation has found.

David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, concluded that laws giving MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to right to gather large volumes of data from members of the public had a “clear operational purpose”."

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