Secret documents reveal MI5 and GCHQ's close relationship

Privacy International questions whether the government is bending surveillance rules too far

Previously secret documents revealed by Privacy International have exposed what it claims to be a worrying relationship between MI5 and GCHQ, suggesting the two organisations could be putting UK residents' privacy at risk.

The document, penned by Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Swinton Thomas in 2004, reveals plans to develop 'the database', a collection of data about citizens of the country that could be used to investigate into people thought to be involved in illegal activities.

It was sent to lawyers of MI5 and GCHQ, asking their opinion on whether it could be used in security operations.

"The documents revealed today demonstrate the Government's troubling history of bending the rules to expand its surveillance powers while minimising safeguards," Caroline Wilson Palow, general counsel at Privacy International, said.

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"The particular correspondence that we reveal today, between lawyers for MI5 and GCHQ and the former Interception of Communications Commissioner, is also an illuminating example of how oversight can go wrong when it lacks sufficient transparency and resources."

She went on to explain that Privacy International thinks the former Commissioner should not have permitted GCHQ to acquire communications data in bulk when the public will not be sufficiently protected. 

"Indeed, the former Commissioner even goes so far as agreeing with GCHQ and MI5 that collecting our communications data from service providers would not be an interference with our privacy. MPs are about to vote on the most important surveillance legislation in a generation." Wilson Palow continued.

"Privacy International, and experts from across academia, civil society and the oversight bodies themselves have been calling for much stronger oversight powers. This latest revelation should give MPs food for thought."

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