British spies illegally held people’s intercepted data for nearly five years, a tribunal said on Monday. The tribunal’s ruling held United Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency MI5 and the interior ministry responsible for “widespread corporate failure.”
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal gave a statement that the MI5 had been making “serious failings in compliance” from late 2014 to April 2019. The tribunal did not divulge specific cases or intelligence persons in its written judgment.
Judge Andrew Edis also said the Home Office had failed to make “adequate enquiries” while approving the bulk surveillance warrants from 2016 until April 2019.
Human rights groups Liberty and Privacy International brought forth the case and said the ruling confirmed that there had been rule-breaking by MI5 which was “overlooked” by the Home Office.
The case was related to data which was acquired in “bulk” under the Investigatory Powers Act and previous legislation. The act governs the interception of data for national security purposes.
Britain has been battling issues of privacy and security since former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed global surveillance of mass monitoring schemes used by US and British agents in 2013.
According to government and security experts, the Investigatory Powers Act offers crucial instruments for defending the public against criminals and terrorism. However, detractors contend that it gives police and spies some of the most comprehensive snooping powers in the West.
On Monday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the ruling related to “widespread corporate failings between the Home Office and MI5” were “historic”.
She gave a written statement to parliament in which she said that the tribunal found that “it was not the case that MI5 should never have held the material at all, only that some small part of it had been retained for too long”.
The tribunal also rejected a broader argument made by Liberty and Privacy International against the efficiency of protections provided by the Investigatory Powers Act and its precursor.
It also declined to revoke any possible illegally obtained warrants or order MI5 to erase any illegally held material because doing so “would be very harmful to national security.”