How innocent people 'of no security interest' are mere keystrokes away in UK's spy databases

Classified mass-surveillance manuals for UK spies have been published today amid a legal battle against the British government.

The newly obtained documents set out Blighty's secret do's and don'ts for monitoring populations. The files acknowledge that chapter and verse on the lives of people "of no security interest" lie within the spooks' secret databases – and analysts and agents are simply told to avoid pulling up their information.

If you're the kind of person who thinks spies aren't interested in normal citizens, and thus they have nothing to worry about, guess again: your information is in the UK government's hands, and you are just a few keystrokes away. And, it appears, some Brit spies have no problem looking up their families, colleagues and even themselves for trivialities such as sending birthday cards.

As we've long known, for decades now GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 routinely extract people's personal information from files kept by private and public organizations, and plonk it all in highly classified searchable databases.

Now the rules and policies in place since 2001 overseeing this mining of data have been revealed. They include:

Advice urging agents to not search for themselves in the databases, especially for things like looking up where they've been traveling – presumably to remind themselves of their trips and how much to put down on their expenses:

An example of an inappropriate ‘self search’ would be to use the database to remind yourself where you have travelled so you can update your records. This is not a proportionate use of the system, as you could find this information by another means (i.e. check the stamps in your passport or keep a running record of your travel) that would avoid collateral intrusion into other people’s data...


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