back to article MI5: Gosh, awkward. We looked down the sofa and, yeah, we *do* have intel on privacy bods

MI5 unlawfully tapped Privacy International's communications, and was unable to accurately identify or locate all the information it held on the NGO, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has heard. The campaign group was today in court as part of its long-running case against the British intelligence agency's mass slurping …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This isn't exactly a great place to be for MI5 if they can't work out they have PI's data how are they going to find stuff on the baddies?

    Criminals use encryption....innocent citizens get spied upon.

    It's a clear reason why collecting less but more relevant data is a good idea.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Yeah, but won't somebody think of the children!

      Who wants rights when imagined threat is scary enough?

  2. TonyJ Silver badge

    Let's not forget though that this is also an organisation that had full knowledge of various suspects that have gone on to commit acts of terror but failed to act on them sufficiently or at all.

    It's less about catching the bad guys and more about controlling the masses and protecting the incumbent governments.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      It's less about catching the bad guys and more about controlling the masses and protecting the incumbent governments.

      Isn't that the purpose of these agencies? Democracies decry "secret police run states" but yet do same things.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Isn't that the purpose of these agencies? Democracies decry "secret police run states" but yet do same things.

        Actually, the TLAs are dual purpose. They are intended to both protect us proles, and the state (for which they substitute the establishment). Unfortunately it turns out to be far easier to address "enemies of the state" than peadoterroristdruglords, so when they are totally ineffective in stopping what you and I consider bad stuff, they concentrate on harassing gobby proles, NGOs and anybody daft enough to qualify as a dissenter on social media.

        Which incidentally includes you and I simply by virtue of debating these issues in a public forum.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      I'm still going with Hanlon's razor here. Cock-up before conspiracy.

      1. strum

        >Cock-up before conspiracy.

        It possible that it's both - a loose system of governance, allowing sloppy behaviour, so that genuinely-naughty behaviour has a smokescreen.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They weren't acts of terror they were acts of regime change, or assassinations of democratic leaders.

    It's not terrorism if you can plausibly deny it

    1. DeKrow

      It's not terrorism if win.

      It's not terrorism if you're in power.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's not terrorism if you're in power ...

        ,,, and have an Election to win.

        Citizen, you have nothing to fear but Fear itself.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Edge of Darkness' - When Privacy gets crushed like a boot stamping on a human face forever

    Watching the watchers... Is there any difference anymore between abusers and criminals in Government, Organized Gangs or Private Corporations?!!!

    Its like trying to play impossible whac-a-mole... What's especially unsettling though is that PI and maybe a few others are the only safeguards checking government corruption in this area. That's disturbing when you consider that AI / ML is being used for more and more questionable purposes. Surveillance is for Catching T's & P's... The greatest lie ever perpetrated on the public!


    ML is good for profiling Terrorists like Poor-People & Journalists

    Durham police criticised over 'crude' profiling



  5. veti Silver badge

    The big surprise here

    ... is that they admitted to it.

    Why? Anyone?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: The big surprise here

      I expect they were cornered into it.

      And that something has moved on, so the admission now serves to focus attention away from today's most sensitive shenanigans (whatever they may be).

      Didn't the Stasi admit something similar? At least, once it had become a matter of history.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The big surprise here

      I suppose it's equivalent to a shrug and "fuck off, get over it", i.e. no harm done to them either way.

    3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: The big surprise here

      Outside of the political management, there are at least some honest people who might object to big enough cover-ups. Snowden et. al. have frightened the government into not being caught out too badly. How many more whistleblowers would be needed to bring the whole thing down ?

    4. strum

      Re: The big surprise here

      >... is that they admitted to it.

      We're accustomed to TV/Movie spooks being cavalier and self-serving, but, in the real world "to live outside the law, you must be honest". More to the point, if you're going to be professionally-dishonest, you need legal backing.

      If a project blows up in your face (or in someone else's street) you'd better be sure you played by the rules.

  6. Warm Braw Silver badge

    No point in raking over the coals

    I'd have thought that was indeed the point of the IPT, not sweeping establishment abuse under the carpet.

    Fortunately, the IPT website is clear on the position of Burton with respect to the establishment:

    Sir Michael Burton was a scholar at Eton College and then at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Classics and then Law, obtaining his MA: he was a lecturer in law at Balliol from 1970 to 1973. He was called to the Bar in 1970, became a QC in 1984, and was appointed a High Court Judge in 1998. He had a busy commercial practice in the Queen’s Bench Division, Chancery Division, Commercial Court and Employment courts, in a wide variety of fields of Law. He sat for many years as a Recorder and Deputy High Court Judge and was Head of Littleton Chambers from 1991 to 1998.

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

      Re: No point in raking over the coals

      Yes, that caught my attention, too. What he said was essentially there is no point in punishing someone who gets caught in the act. I am a little unclear on the legal justification for that, but I think it is pretty much "because".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah....that weasel word "deleted" again.....

    I wonder how many copies of data are kept by MI5 and others. Do they keep a cycle of backups? Do individual employees have the opportunity to copy data to workstations, to laptops, to DVD burners? Has the data been shared with the NSA, or other STASI-like organisations elsewhere?


    Quote: "However, the government later revealed the data relating to Privacy International was deleted from the "Workings" area yesterday."


    Notice the very careful wording ..... there's almost certainly more than one "sofa" which needs a good examination!!!! Judge Burton should be asking more probing questions. And if he does not do this, the curious will wonder why not.

    1. Spazturtle

      Re: Ah....that weasel word "deleted" again.....

      "I wonder how many copies of data are kept by MI5 and others."

      If they are following protocol then there should be no backups.

      Some kind person has uploaded the guidelines for the handling of the different classifications levels:

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It'll all be OK* by next April

    No more European Courts, no more GDPR!

    *The European Commission has the power to determine, on the basis of article 45 of Regulation (EU) 2016/679 whether a country outside the EU offers an adequate level of data protection, whether by its domestic legislation or of the international commitments it has entered into.

    1. Spazturtle

      Re: It'll all be OK* by next April

      We are not leaving the GDRP and we will remain a GDPR nation. The GDPR is designed so that non EU members can be still be GDPR members. If the US really wanted to then it could join the GDPR.

  9. A.P. Veening Silver badge


    I am wondering how the GDPR fine would be calculated as MI5 is a subsidiary of the legal entity known as the British Government. And more importantly, who will receive those funds (a couple of billion GBP at the very least)?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: GDPR

      The max GDPR fine is €20 million. (src)

      1. Sproggit

        Re: GDPR

        Not it's not. See here:-

        To quote:-

        What is the maximum administrative fine under the GDPR? There are two tiers of administrative fines that can be levied as penalties for non-compliance:

        Up to €10 million, or 2% annual global turnover – whichever is higher.

        Up to €20 million, or 4% annual global turnover – whichever is higher.

  10. Adrian 4 Silver badge


    You don't need a policy on the retention and deletion of illegaly-acquired data if you respect the law and don't acquire it in the first place.

  11. Harry Stottle

    The Show Must Go On

    investigations like this are all part of the ongoing Accountability Theatre

    Until all such intel and data gathering entities are legally required to make their data auditable with digital immutability, reviewed, on demand, by impartial juries (not the State and its poodles), the routine civil abuses and steady growth of authoritarian Police States will continue apace...

  12. mintus55

    lying in court

    so MI5 can just lie in court and have no sanction applied to them??


  13. Sproggit

    Nature of the Debate

    We have to be careful here, because it is easy to be drawn in to a debate where the context of what is being discussed has been defined before we have a chance to look at it and agree to it.

    In this case, the context needs to be an answer to the question: "What level of intrusion on personal privacy is acceptable in the defense of things like personal safety, the Defense of the Realm, etc?"

    Ultimately, this is a risk-based decision. When a bank agrees to let you have a credit card, they weigh up the potential for making profits from you against the potential risk you pose if you run up a debt you cannot pay back. So when we as a society make a decision about the surveillance powers we are willing to give to our Security Services, that needs to be on the back of a clearly defined risk or threat.

    The problem that we have with this entire debate is that any interest by citizens to become engaged in the debate is met one of three ways:-

    1. A pat on the head and a condescending smile as we're told not to worry our pretty little selves about it, Nanny State has got this covered...

    2. A sneered response that this sort of topic is discussed on a need-to-know basis - and that we don't need to know...

    3. A stern frown and a knock on the door only to be asked to accompany someone away for an "interview".

    Everything our governments do for us - *everything* is paid for by taxes that we pay. Our government is supposed to serve us - it is where the terms "Public Servant" and "Public Sector" came from. Unfortunately, in an increasing number of areas, governments the world over seem to view the electorate as the enemy.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Nature of the Debate

      "What level of intrusion on personal privacy is acceptable in the defense of things like personal safety, the Defense of the Realm, etc?"

      Anything that cannot be done on the base of court order / warrant is illegal; black ops necessarily operate outside the law and under the terms of plausible deniability. Anything else effectively legitimises a police state, and at some point, we all have something to hide.

      It turns out, and many who've worked on such things repeatedly confirm this, that there is usually an easier and legal way to get the desired information. For example, in Germany the heads of the intelligence service are in love with a trojan that they can install on people's phones. Turns out, however, that any evidence gathered this way can be deemed as inadmissible – you have to hack the phone to install the malware, so how do you prove you didn't plant the evidence? – and it's usually easier just to stick a microphone or camera somewhere.

  14. Aodhhan


    Did the UK hire Hillary and Obama to ensure MI5 was staffed by the same type of people hired to run the intelligence agencies in the USA?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Yeesh

      It is the nature of intelligence services will always expand unless they are expressly limited. The bigger they are, the more suspicious and inefficient they become.

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