The UK intelligence agencies (GCHQ, MI6 and MI5) are campaigning for greater powers for themselves as they seek to ease the safeguards that control their access to people’s personal data. In 2016, the UK Parliament introduced legal safeguards after the Edward Snowden revealed that the intelligence agencies were using their powers to infiltrate every area of people’s online lives, even those of the ordinary, innocent citizens. Now, the agencies want those controls either removed or so weakened that they are meaningless. They describe the current regulations as “burdensome”. This personal information about every citizen in the country is known as BPD or “Bulk Personal Datasets”. At the moment the approval of a judge is required before this work is done on a particular target (rather like applying for a search warrant).
The agencies’ argument is that large corporations such as Meta and X can already freely analyse BPD almost without restraint. They want to be able to do the same. Meanwhile those Members of Parliament who are opposing them say that the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) means that we need to be more careful about intrusion into people’s private lives rather than less.
Oddly enough, the problem for the intelligence agencies in recent years has been that they have too much intelligence, not too little. The problem for them has been pulling the really important intelligence out of the mass of very low level material. This is known as “data mining.” The 9/11 attack illustrated this problem: Congress concluded that all the clues to the attack were there, the problem was that the intelligence was not spotted and circulated in time. In a recent speech, Richard Moore, head of MI6 revealed that the agencies are already making use of AI for intelligence data mining.
The agencies are on one side, human rights adovcates on the other. Battle has been joined.