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18th Sep 2021

UK confirms it bulk-collected nationals' data

  • UK has been snooping on its own citizens since 2001 (Photo: Theen Moy)

UK authorities on Wednesday (4 November) confirmed British intelligence has been secretly scooping up the emails and telephone records of its own citizens for the past 15 years.

The admission, made by UK’s home secretary Theresa May, came amid a ministerial debate on a new draft UK surveillance bill that gives police and intelligence access to websites visited by people without the need for a warrant.

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It was revealed British governments had been giving “secret directions” that required Internet firms to hand over communication data of citizens to UK security agencies such as MI5, reports The Guardian.

May said the new bill is needed to provide a legal basis for surveillance in the larger effort to fight crime and terrorism. She said the law contains oversight provisions to prevent abuse.

“This will ensure that the people who are keeping us safe will have the powers they need but will also have the right oversight arrangements”, she said.

A panel of judges would be given the powers to block spying operations.

But the bill includes proposals that would allow the state to infiltrate devices and sweep up large amounts of data, in moves described by civil liberty defenders as state-sanctioned mass surveillance.

The proposed law would also force Internet firms to help hack phones and other devices.

Police would be able to see websites visited by British citizens, but not the pages viewed or links clicked. May described the web records as the equivalent of an itemised phone bill.

Similar state-sanctioned access powers are banned in Europe and the United States.

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden described in a tweet the UK bill as legitimising mass snooping.

“By my read, #SnoopersCharter legitimizes mass surveillance. It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West”, he said.

He also dismissed May’s itemised phone bill reference.

He said storing Internet connection records is more like “a list of every book you’ve ever opened."

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