British spies' comms interception cleared by watchdog

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British spies' comms interception cleared by watchdog

Acted within legal limits.

Britain's spy agencies acted lawfully when they intercepted the communications of innocent citizens, the country's Communications Commissioner has declared in a report on the mass surveillance by intelligence services.

In the 82 page report [PDF], Communications Commissioner Sir Anthony May cleared the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency from wrongdoing, saying it did not misuse its powers when it randomly tapped into Britons' communications.

"Unlawful and unwarranted intercept intrusion of any kind, let alone “massive unwarranted surveillance”, is not and, in my judgment could not be carried out institutionally within the interception agencies themselves. The interception agencies and all their staff are quite well aware of the lawful limits of their powers," he said.

Government agencies had over half a million requests to intercept data approved, a number May said could indicate "a significant institutional overuse" of surveillance powers.

Apart from his statutory obligation as Communications Commissioner, May has a secondary aim to address public concerns arising from former NSA contractor Edwards Snowden's many leaked documents detailing surveillance programs run by Western spy agencies.

He also expressed concern with the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) law governing communications interception, which he said was a difficult statute to understand.

"I have very considerable sympathy with those who are hazy about the details of the legislation," May said.

"Because RIPA 2000 Part I is difficult legislation, this narrative may in places be dense and perhaps itself indigestible. I have tried to make it as accessible as possible, but apologise if I have not entirely achieved this."

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