UK spies have more data at their disposal than they know what to do with, according to a new leaked document.
The Intercept has published a secret document written by British intelligence officials back in 2010 expressing concerns that spies are being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information collected by spy agencies — making it more difficult to act on the data collected.
“[The Security Service] can currently collect … significantly more than it is able to exploit fully,” the document said. “This creates a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ ie from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected.”
In other words: Spies are worried the haystack is so big, they won’t be able to find the needle when they need to.
The Intercept’s report comes as the British government works on a root-and-branch overhaul of its spying laws. The Investigatory Powers Bill is intended to create a framework suitable for the demands of twenty-first century espionage, and provides a clear legal basis for the tools that spooks use.
It has come under heavy criticism from human rights and privacy campaigners over a range of issues ranging from state-sanctioned hacking to its approach to encryption. However, on Tuesday, the Labour opposition voted to support the bill, and it is now moving onto the next stage of the legislative process, the House of Lords, for further review.
The Investigatory Powers Bill — dubbed the “Snooper’s Charter” by its critics — will force telecoms and communications customers to retain communications data on all Britons for a year. This will give British authorities far more data to work with as they work to battle crime and terrorism.
But critics worry that it could make the situation outlined in the 2010 report worse.
“As today’s leaks show, there are genuine concerns that mass surveillance is making us less, not more, safe,” Pam Cowburn, communications director of digital liberties advocacy group Open Rights Group, told the BBC. “If the Investigatory Powers Bill is passed, even more of our data will be collected, with internet service providers being forced to record our web browsing history and app use.”
She added: “Surveillance should be targeted towards people who are suspected of criminal activity, not the entire UK population.”
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