back to article Brit spooks 'kept oversight bodies in the dark' over data sharing

Concerns have been raised that neither of the bodies tasked with overseeing the UK's spy agencies were aware that data they collected was shared with the private sector. According to documents released as part of an ongoing court case between the UK government and Privacy International, GCHQ and MI5 didn't tell watchdogs they …

  1. iron Silver badge

    "Despite what it may seem, people do have an expectation of privacy to some degree on their social media"

    Stupid people perhaps.

    1. 's water music

      "Despite what it may seem, people do have an expectation of privacy to some degree on their social media"

      Stupid people perhaps.

      I suspect that what most people are really pissed about is that didn't like/favourite/retweet the data as they collected it. That's why most people made it public after all.

      Joke alert not joke alert --->

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      Well, define "stupid". People *should* be able to assume that the only people reading those posts are the people they authorise, plus possibly the system admins and law enforcement bearing a valid court order.

      Law enforcement accessing the data without a warrent and then deciding to sell/give it to whomever they feel like should not be a thing given that it's illegal under even existing laws supposedly controlling GCHQ. It shall be interesting to see how this plays out.

      That being said, personally I assume that everything online (including encryption) is compromised or compromisable by GCHQ/NSA and that anything posted or communicated online is probably read by them. I'm confident that the contents of my internal business network is safe from prying, but not utterly certain given the extreme resources that can be brought to bear on suppliers making security assumptions invalid. (ie, that certs won't be forged by high level suppliers, tokens ID's are secure and that out of band auth via phone will mean the end users phone rings etc)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        People *should* be able to assume that ...

        Maybe social media platforms should add an extra tick box to their privacy options: "Please share my data with the security services on their request, even without an appropriate court order: y/n".

        Then we will find out what we should "assume" people want.

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        The Smartest People in Rooms are Never Ever where you Think they Be, nor Who They Be

        That being said, personally I assume that everything online (including encryption) is compromised or compromisable by GCHQ/NSA and that anything posted or communicated online is probably read by them. .... Peter2

        Quite so, Peter2, and I also like to assume and presume such. And it does present a major problem and highlights a catastrophic vulnerability for such not so secretive services which be tasked with knowing/preknowing what is going on all around them, and in the deeper darker dimensions of the webs which are sharing valuable secrets, in that whenever there is no action taken with or against information/intelligence which is shared/discovered ...... and imagine that everything on El Reg must be examined if/whenever some things on El Reg may be of significant national security interest ...... must the information be of no interest to such services and thus can be safely exported to competitors, or of such an unusual and non-conventional nature, that it be beautifully secured against detection.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: The Smartest People in Rooms are Never Ever where you Think they Be, nor Who They Be

          Good heavens, our resident bot has made something approaching a coherent post. Maybe AI is improving after all...

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: The Smartest People in Rooms are Never Ever where you Think they Be, nor Who They Be

            Good heavens, our resident bot has made something approaching a coherent post. Maybe AI is improving after all... Peter2

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    3. ArchieTheAlbatross

      I was advised

      many years ago, when CompuServe was still a thing, that I should not write in an email anything I would not be happy writing on a postcard.

      Only problem now is explaining to a millennial what a postcard is.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: I was advised

        My kids know - I persist sending them on my overseas trips and always require them on pain of no ice cream to do the same with their Grandparents :-)

    4. MonkeyCee

      Expectation of privacy

      "Stupid people perhaps."

      IANAL, but assuming you have an option when posting to set a visibility to "everyone, everywhere" and "just my mates please", and you choose the latter, you have a (legal) expectation of privacy.

      That most people know that the piss will be taken, doesn't mean you lose that right.

      This is in much the same way that you have an expectation of privacy in your own home/hotel room etc. So if you wander around in the buff, and someone takes pictures from a public space outside (or other place a photographer could legally be), then the photographer is violating the expected right to privacy. Yes, wandering around naked and being shocked that someone took some snaps is perhaps "stupid" but it doesn't change the fact that the people taking the pictures are the criminals.

      GCHQ et al are allowed* to scoop up public data, which is anything where you don't have an expectation of privacy. Driving your car on a public highway does not confer any expectation of privacy, for example. If they want to do something that crosses that threshold, then there is supposed to be some sort of warrant like process. Exactly what aspects of meta data are public or private is always going to be a bit of a bun fight.

      Just to note, this is not (and never will be) about the gathering of information on actual targets. If the security services believes you are dangerous enough to get a warrant, even a secret one, then all bets are off. This is about collecting data on people that have yet to come up on the radar.

      * well, now I think they're pretty much allowed to do anything, and then get it retroactively legalized.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    How is this "oversight" If the only way you knonw what they are doing is what they tell you?

    Even log in credentials can stop users seeing either all of the structure of a data base or limit them to seeing a very small part of a much larger design.

    We all know that the structure of the data is just as important as size of the database, especially the cross referencing of data sets within the DB and across multiple DBs.

    Let's see how well this Commissioner responds to the fact they seem to be being played by the snoops.

    1. Muscleguy

      Re: How is this "oversight" If the only way you knonw what they are doing is what they tell you?

      My thought too as a rank amateur but one with friends who are database experts and someone who has had cause to interrogate databases. If the data are unstructured to that degree how the hell do they search it efficiently? Or do they just dump a load of stuff on poor minimum wage grunts and make them sift it?

      I realise it is hard to accurately categorize stuff, especially in an automated manner. But surely they can do better than 'unstructured'?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "how the hell do they search it efficiently? "

        A very good question.

        "Free text searching" is (technically) what Google does.

        Various obvious tactics are to build dictionaries of common words and phrases and build a DB of who uses them (something dating back to the NSA's speech work in the 1970's). Likewise tracking "likes" and downvotes on different sites. So using a not entirely random example "how many times did Ahmed and Abdul use the word jihad since the 7/7/5 attacks"

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    The problem now...

    The problem for the intelligence agencies now is that no sane minded and/or relatively informed person believes or trusts a word of what either they, the Government or GCHQ utters. Such is the extent of what they want to grab in terms of "powers", the more cynical part of my mindset can absolutely see how they could be entirely responsible for seeding (i.e. by deliberately misplacing) certain datasets out into the wild so as to cause data loss, 3rd party hacking instances, and personal collateral damage to people and organisations, with the intent of thereby reinforcing full-circle their own arguments and demands for those powers.

    As I said, it might be a cynical perspective, but I'm not convinced that on past form, previous obfuscation, misinformation and lies; but mostly on the basis that all of their shady operations conveniently hide under the banner of "national security" - that it is beyond these organisations in any way shape or form.

  4. codejunky Silver badge


    Who watches the watchers? Countries which valued freedom becoming more afraid of such freedom.

    1. Adrian 4

      Re: Hmm

      _We_ do.

      Keep that in mind when they want your votes again, and vote for the ones you trust, not the least-worst option. If that leaves you with nobody to vote for, question why you're voting.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Defence of the Realm' and only to catch T's & P's ...

    Who'd want to be an Investigative-Journalist / Whistleblower / Activist-protestor, in this climate:

    "Social media data shared by spy agencies - BBC News - UK spy agencies are collecting citizens' social media and medical data, a court has heard. The details emerged in a case brought by Privacy International, looking at the legality of mass data collection. - The body which oversees UK surveillance did not know that highly sensitive data was being shared, it emerged. - The long-running legal case was brought by Privacy International, following revelations in March 2015 that the intelligence agencies were collecting not only targeted data on specific suspects but also information from the general public. The details were revealed in an Intelligence and Security Committee report which, although heavily redacted, stated that so-called bulk personal datasets (BPDs) vary in size from hundreds to millions of records. - According to Privacy International it is the first time that the type of data being collected has been made public, although it is still not clear how such data is collected. "We don't know whether it it is intercepted or given to it by the companies - One of the biggest reveals of the court case was that private contractors had "administrator" access to some of the information the agencies collect. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO), which oversees the UK's surveillance regime, has raised concerns over the role of these private contractors. In letters shared with PI, it said that there are "no safeguards" in place to prevent the misuse of the systems by third parties."

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: 'Defence of the Realm' and only to catch T's & P's ...

      I didn't know BBC News were a spy agency, AC. When was the transition?

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  6. tmz


    " which renders the deals a gauge of likelihood taker than a description of data."

    Can anyone translate that in to English for me?

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: What?

      We don't parse the data into separate fields in the database called 'medical data', 'legally privileged', etc. We keep it in a big blob of text that we call 'data' so we can wheedle around the law.

      1. tmz

        Re: What?

        Yes, "taken" was a typo for "rather" (now fixed) - which makes a little more sense, but I still have no idea what "deals" this is talking about. Is that a typo for "details"?

  7. Bernard M. Orwell
    Big Brother


    Well damn. Time to unfriend GCHQ.

    1. David Lewis 2
      Big Brother

      Re: Like!

      You can "unfriend" us as much as you like, but we will stalk you to the end of your days, and beyond.



  8. Cuddles

    Didn't tell the watchdog?

    Surely the whole point of a watchdog is to check if what someone is telling everyone is actually true? What exactly is the point of a watchdog that just blindly believes everything they're told?

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Didn't tell the watchdog?

      What exactly is the point of a watchdog that just blindly believes everything they're told?

      Well, if you let the burglars choose your watchdog for you, you're guaranteed to get one that just sits there watching and doing nothing, right?

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Remember, to a data fetishist it's *all* "targetted data,"

    Where the definition of "target" is anyone who lives in the UK.

    They might call it a policy.

    I'd call it a personality disorder.

  10. batfink
    Black Helicopters

    "Industry Partners"? WTF?

    It's interesting that the term "industry partners" is used throughout this discussion. Who dat den?

    Or is this an admission that the intelligence services are now officially an industry, and we can stop pretending they're a public service?

    1. An nonymous Cowerd

      Re: "Industry Partners"? WTF?

      Privacy International did mention summat about the University of Bristol getting a raw pipeline of (our)cheltenham-slurped-data, once a day - with seemingly un-monitored access.

      I’m guessing wildly that it would be sent directly to the Psychology department, hopefully with the aim of finding elusive terrorists, rather than just pure fascism? Or would it be more open, better check!

      Searching gave this “Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research – a joint partnership between GCHQ and the University of Bristol. This institute has not only provided a focus for the growth of pure mathematics at Bristol; it has also acted as a catalyst for the subject’s sustainability across the United Kingdom” excellent!

      Datamining - rather than psycho-history?

  11. Harry Stottle
  12. John 104
    Black Helicopters

    So, just like the NSA

    Do things you aren't supposed to do, knowing you shouldn't, but not giving a damn anyway. Keep doing it until you get caught, and then explain your way out of if, while lying about how you are going to fix it and not do it again. Then do it again. Fuckers.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: So, just like the NSA

      Power is as Power does.

      If no-one can stop them, then no-one can stop them. QED.

  13. cysec

    If you want your privacy, do not use social media...simples.. Personally, I do not want t know what several million people had for breakfast...

    1. Captain DaFt

      If you want your privacy, do not use social media...

      Or any other internet usage Also ditch the smartphone, hell, better ditch cellphone service altogether, and never use credit cards, then all you have to worry about is being tracked because you don't use any of these things.

      "Subject still in his cave as of Oct 19, 2017, left once to defecate in the bush at 22:15 today as usual, then returned.

      Stool sample taken for analysis of any possible terrorist activities. Will advise of any updates."

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Public hearing, secret outcome?

    A similar investigation in Canada resulted in secret (ie. classified) findings that cannot be disclosed. Not even the submissions of the complainants can be released.

    All the oversight and review IPCO claims is of little use if the agencies cannot be shamed or prosecuted into compliance.

    AC for the usual raisons d'etre.

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