GCHQ has become, quite literally, a law unto itself
The brilliant Hawktalk blog has demonstrated how the UK government has airbrushed the Data Protection Act out of ‘national security’ issues. This leaves GCHQ free to conduct mass surveillance of British citizens (and who cares about foreigners anyway?) without any effective legal oversight — merely a nod and a wink from the government of the day.
The conclusion comes from an analysis of a data protection exemption certificate obtained under freedom of information laws and dating back to 2005 — now probably out of date but equally probably indicative of what is happening today (born out by similarities between an old TfL exemption certificate and a recent one issued by Theresa May).
There are eight data protection principles underpinning the Data Protection Act. Summarized by the Information Commissioners Office (the UK’s data protection regulator), these are that personal data should be:
- Fairly and lawfully processed
- Processed for limited purposes
- Adequate, relevant and not excessive
- Accurate and up to date
- Not kept for longer than is necessary
- Processed in line with your rights
- Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection
In the certificate analysed by Hawktalk, principles 1, 2, and 8 are exempted. Furthermore, principles 3 and 5 are effectively nullified by the exemption to principle 8 — the data can simply be transferred to NSA databases outside of the ICO’s jurisdiction.
Hawktalk’s argument is that these principles are automatically suspended for any statutory body pursuing its statutory purposes. The implication of a certificate specifically issued to completely exempt that body (GCHQ) from any of the principles is that it (GCHQ) wishes to pursue the processing of personal data beyond its (GCHQ’s) statutory purpose — it simply does not need an additional exemption if it sticks to what it was designed to do (ie, national security). In other words, GCHQ wishes to collect and process personal data to an extent that is both beyond its legal remit and the strictures of national law.
GCHQ has become, quite literally, a law unto itself.