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British spies are collecting and sharing datasets of people’s social media activities

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The British intelligence services have for years quietly claimed the right to collect so-called bulk personal datasets (BPDs) about people, most of whom may be innocent of any crime. The practice was only officially acknowledged in 2015, and last year’s Investigatory Powers Act was – for all its draconian elements – supposed to at least ensure proper authorization and safeguards for the use of these datasets.

Well. The latest revelations from the UK’s crusading Privacy International show not only that the GCHQ spy agency has been assembling databases of people’s social media data by gaining access to private companies’ own troves of data, but also that the agencies shared their databases with foreign governments and their law enforcement agencies – without the knowledge of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the supposed provider of oversight.

The revelation regarding the social media databases is new. What’s more, when the commissioner’s office (IPCO) found out thanks to Privacy International’s litigation, it delved into the issue and found that certain contractors are given “administrator” access to this wealth of information, without safeguards against misuse.

Privacy International has been suing the government for years over UK government surveillance. It won an important ruling last year from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which said that the British intelligence agencies had been breaking European human rights laws up until 2015 by failing to provide proper oversight for their bulk personal dataset and bulk communications data (BCD) schemes.

2015 is when – having been found out – the agencies instituted codes of practice to supposedly stay on the right side of the law. Now the privacy campaign group is litigating at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to find out how legal

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