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National security: MI5 'accidentally' spies on innocent people

MI5, the UK's Security Service, mistakenly gathered information about innocent people entirely unrelated to the criminal investigation they were operating, a recent report stated.

The report written by Sir Paul Kennedy, Interception of Communication Commissioner, was an annual review of law enforcement agencies and "the process underpinning the authorisation of interception" and "details of errors reported by agencies".

Sir Paul reports that a software failure resulted in MI5's acquisition of information relating to 134 telephone numbers that were unrelated to the particular criminal surveillance investigation.

He wrote: "These errors were caused by a formatting fault on an electronic spreadsheet which altered the last three digits of each of the telephone numbers to '000'.

"These unfortunate errors were identified by the Security Service and duly reported.

"The subscriber data acquired had no connection or relevance to any investigation or operation being undertaken by the Security Service."

The report then goes on to state that any data collected had been destroyed and the fault fixed. However, from now on requests for information are manually checked in order to prevent further mistakes occurring.

The Security Service also wrongfully obtained information about 927 internet connections, including their browsing history. The approval to gather this information had been given by staff members who were not senior enough to do so.

Sir Paul said: "This data was not obtained fully in accordance with the law and these errors were duly reported to my office."

MI5 is entitled to gather information by tapping phones and intercepting emails but only if they adhere to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. They are required to gain the permission of a Secretary of State, usually the Home Secretary, before using any intrusive investigative methods.

Related links:
Read more on this story (OutLaw.com)
Read about your right to privacy (FindLaw)
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