UK Intelligence Asked For Communications Data 570k Times In 2012


Interception and comms data requests spike, but mistakes have led to wrongful arrests

The number of law enforcement and intelligence requests to access communications data increased significantly in 2012, according to a report presented to Parliament.

But mistakes in using such information led to wrongful arrests and false accusations, according to the 2012 Annual Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

There were 570,135 authorisations for communications data in 2012, a 15 percent increase on 2011. But there were 979 errors reported to to the commissioner by public authorities, up from 895 from the previous year.

Shutterstock - © Petar Paunchev - surveillanceFalse arrests

In five separate cases the mistakes led to individuals being either wrongly arrested or accused of crimes, whilst in another case the privacy of the individual was compromised.

“This type of human error usually occurs due to the transposition of digits in telephone numbers or internet protocol (IP) address,” the report read.

It also pointed to lawful intercept warrants issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 stood at 3372 in 2012, a rise of 16 percent.

During that year, 55 errors were reported – a 30 percent increase on the 42 errors reported in 2011.

Despite the rise in errors, and the level of scrutiny facing intelligence bodies since the leaks of Edward Snowden, the commissioner said he was impressed by the level of professionalism in preventing breaches at the various bodies he spoke to.

“It is my belief, based on my scrutiny of GCHQ authorisations, in addition to what I have seen at both inspections and wider briefings, that GCHQ staff conduct themselves with the highest levels of integrity and legal compliance,” the report, produced by Sir Paul Kennedy, read.

GCHQ was told yesterday its access to the US National Security Agency’s PRISM database was legal, despite claims that it was breaking the law in circumventing checks on surveillance. PRISM, as revealed by Snowden, collated information from major Internet firms, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

It is clear the government is increasingly hungry for people’s information, however. Microsoft’s last transparency report showed UK police and intelligence groups made more requests for people’s Skype data than any other authorities in the world.

And the government wants to make communications data, which details who contacted whom, from where and how, more accessible through the Communications Data Bill, otherwise known as Snoopers’ Charter. That bill has faced massive opposition from technology companies and privacy groups alike.

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