07:57, June 11 224 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-11 07:57:09
MI5 accused of ‘extraordinary and persistent illegality’

MI5 has lost control of its data storage operations and has been obtaining surveillance warrants on the basis of information it knows to be false, the high court has heard.

The security agency has been accused of “extraordinary and persistent illegality” in a legal challenge brought by the human rights organisation Liberty. The failures have been identified by the official watchdog, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford, and admitted in outline by the home secretary, Sajid Javid. The full extent of the problems within MI5 began to become apparent in disclosures made public at the hearing on Tuesday. The revelations relate to bulk interceptions of data acquired through surveillance and hacking programmes and downloaded to its computers.

The agency has a duty to ensure that such material is not held longer than required or copied more often than needed.

Ben Jaffey QC, for Liberty, said that there were “ungoverned spaces” in MI5’s operations where it did not know what it held.

In written submissions, Jaffey said: “Fulford’s generic warrant decision notes that warrants were issued to MI5 on a basis that MI5 knew to be incorrect and the judicial commissioners [the watchdogs] were given false information.”

An MI5 letter sent to Fulford and released to the court showed that the agency did not know what material it held.

The letter said: “We are about to commence further scanning of [its computers] to ensure we have a full understanding of the data.

“The full scan had been challenging to action … We have also been seeking to understand working practices … so that we can take comprehensive action to improve assurance of our compliance with relevant safeguards.”

Julian Milford, counsel for the Home Office and Foreign Office, told the court: “We accept that this is material that discloses compliance risks with MI5.”

The hearing continues.