Britain’s security and intelligence agencies used not to exist, officially. Now, you can download documents discussing MI5 officers’ failures to fill out electronic forms. On 3 May, someone new to the approval process for accessing bulk personal datasets reported that it was being over-ridden. One imagines he or she was unpopular with colleagues; hats off, nevertheless, for protecting both the privacy of the largely innocent people on those databases and MI5’s reputation.
The detail in the documents released by Privacy International from its tribunal case against the agencies is remarkable, but they have not received vast amounts of coverage – thanks to Computer Weekly for commissioning me to write about them, this month and in June. Edward Snowden’s leaked documents are sexier.
But I reckon the tribunal documents are a superior source. They are up-to-date and legally approved by senior officers at the agencies – it would be a foolish civil servant who lied in a witness statement. The agencies are trying to win their case, so are providing all the detail they think is needed to achieve that.
They are not an independent assessment (unlike David Anderson’s new report), but long, dull legal documents like these are also the ideal place to disclose interesting information, on the basis that hardly anyone will read them.
For all these reasons, they are worth reading.
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