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British Intelligence is Surveilling Millions through Social Media

UK charity Privacy International has revealed that British intelligence services are harvesting and storing the personal information of millions of social media users—and sharing it with foreign governments, police forces and companies.

The documents obtained by the advocacy group also highlighted that the IPCO — a governmental  body overseeing the actions of intelligence agencies— had not been informed of the mass surveillance practice.

Privacy International has been embroiled in a long feud with British spies over their collection of bulk personal datasets (BPDs)— a method whose usage  has only been revealed in 2015, and which has raised many eyebrows regarding its merits and potential misuses. (Those fears were compounded by the fact that the practice existed in a grey area, with no rules prescribing  how the gathered information should be handled.)

Until now it was not clear whence such datasets were sourced from, although it was known—thanks to heavily redacted official reports— that the information collected included details like a person’s race, religion, political views, medical condition, sexual orientation, and  “otherwise confidential” facts.

Now, new documents wangled by the charity shed some light on the whole affair.

“New disclosure reveals that the UK intelligence agencies hold databases of our social media data,” Privacy International  explained in a statement. “This is the first confirmed concrete example of the type of information collected by the UK intelligence agencies and held in large databases.”

“The social media database potentially includes information about millions of people,”they added.

“It remains unclear exactly what aspects of our communications they hold and what other types of information the government agencies are collecting, beyond the broad unspecific categories previously identified such as ‘biographical details’, ‘commercial and financial activities’, ‘communications’, ‘travel data’, and ‘legally privileged communications’.”

The new documents not only confirmed that UK snoopers are hoarding “social media data” from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter on bulk databases; they also revealed the IPCO’s worries about intelligence agencies relying on private contractors to handle some of that data.

While the intelligence agencies defended that there are mechanisms in place to avoid misuse, Privacy International countered that the very practice of bulk collection has been previously deemed to be unlawful.

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