Skip to main content

Britain's Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham is seen in an undated handout aerial photograph.

REUTERS

U.K. spies intercept Britons' online communications in bulk and keep personal data on large numbers of British citizens – but not enough to amount to blanket surveillance or "reading everyone's e-mails," lawmakers said Thursday.

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee has made the most detailed public disclosure yet of Britain's electronic snooping abilities. The agencies' surveillance powers have been under scrutiny since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of spies' ability to monitor phone and online communications.

The legislators said the electronic spy agency GCHQ accesses "a very small percentage" of Internet traffic through the fiber-optic cables that carry communications. The report said a small portion of that data is collected and even less is read – though even that amounts to thousands of items a day.

Story continues below advertisement

The report said that only the communications of "suspected criminals or national security targets" are selected for examination.

"It is clear to us that GCHQ do not conduct blanket surveillance," committee member Hazel Blears said. "It's not blanket and it's not indiscriminate."

The report's summary stressed that GCHQ "is not collecting or reading everyone's e-mails."

Blears said that bulk interception of Internet data "has exposed previously unknown threats or plots" – but the report, portions of which are redacted, did not give details.

The report revealed that spies have "bulk datasets" containing "significant quantities of personal information about British citizens." It said some staff have been disciplined or dismissed for "inappropriately accessing personal information in these datasets in recent years."

Blears said such cases were "extremely rare."

The legislators concluded that spy agencies do not seek to break the law, but that the complex rules governing their activities should be simplified into a single law. And they said there should be additional safeguards for sensitive professions including lawyers, doctors and journalists.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter