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'Prosecute spies who abuse power' says watchdog

The Intelligence and Security Committee Credit: PA Wire

The law should be changed so that spies who abuse their power to access personal information can be prosecuted, an intelligence watchdog has said.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) revealed in its long-awaited report that MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have disciplined or dismissed staff for inappropriately accessing personal information through bulk data collection.

But the Committee said it was concerned to find that there is not a specific criminal offence that can be brought against those who misuse interception capabilities and that the law should be changed.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner, The Right Honourable Sir Anthony May revealed there was a "very serious case" last year, in which GCHQ employee deliberately undertook a number of unauthorised searches for related communications data.

The abuse of the systems amounted to gross misconduct and the individual was fired, the Commissioner said.

Intelligence report branded 'clueless' by Liberty director

Shami Chakrabarti calls ISC report "clueless" Credit: PA Archive

The director of human rights campaign group Liberty said that the Parliament report into intelligence agency snooping is "ineffective" and "clueless".

Shami Chakrabarti said that the Intelligence and Security Committee is a "mouthpiece for the spooks" and that agencies have acted unlawfully.

The ISC has repeatedly shown itself as a simple mouthpiece for the spooks - so clueless and ineffective that it's only thanks to Edward Snowden that it had the slightest clue of the agencies' antics.

The Committee calls this report a landmark for 'openness and transparency' - but how do we trust agencies who have acted unlawfully, hacked the world's largest sim card manufacturer and developed technologies capable of collecting our login details and passwords, manipulating our mobile devices and hacking our computers and webcams?

No doubt it would be simpler if we went along with the spies' motto of 'no scrutiny for us, no privacy for you' - but what an appalling deal for the British public.

– Shami Chakrabarti

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GCHQ chief's message shows fear and frustration

By UK Editor Rohit Kachroo

This is a new tone from the new head of GCHQ and language like this from someone like him indicates a new level of fear and frustration about these American internet giants.

In his FT article, Robert Hannigan challenges them after blaming them, saying they should work with the British security services to end the threat posed online by groups like Islamic State.

He says:

However much they may dislike it, they have become the command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us.

– Robert Hannigan, GCHQ Director

Then he makes this direct plea, saying in effect that we cannot do this on our own:

GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web.

– Robert Hannigan

In other words, beating the threat online from the likes of Islamic State is as much about the likes of Google and YouTube as it is MI5 and MI6.

There has been no response so far from the companies, but rarely has a spy chief spoken to directly and so publicly in this fashion against the internet and against groups like Islamic State.

Islamic State militants have been disseminating their message across the internet.

But, a word of caution.

This isn't something that can be ended on someone's laptop in San Francisco.

British police are already overstretched, pulling down over 1,000 items a week.

The Islamic State are finding new ways of posting, of getting their message across the internet every single week as well, and our security services are really playing catch-up.

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