UK spy agency found to be conducting unauthorized surveillance... on itself

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Jamie Rigg
June 25th, 2015
UK spy agency found to be conducting unauthorized surveillance... on itself

We're still learning about all the different surveillance tactics and targets of the UK's GCHQ spy agency, but the latest organization found to have been snooped on unnecessarily may surprise you. When it's not spying on civil rights groups, looking for flaws in security software or amassing data on us, the GCHQ is apparently gathering too much intelligence... on itself. The anecdote comes from the annual report of the Intelligence Services Commissioner, who's job it is to make sure all British intelligence agencies are collecting information in a lawful and justified manner. The report doesn't come to any dramatic conclusions -- the commissioner is satisfied they're all behaving appropriately -- but it does note an "administrative error" that resulted in the GCHQ "capturing more information [on its employees] than it was authorised to."

GCHQ made the commissioner aware of the error last year, when a system set up to monitor "some staff communications" was found to be recording more data than it was supposed to. According to the report, it "was a technical error and not deliberate," with the team involved putting it down to "a lack of understanding of the systems' full capability." Since the mistake was first caught, all surplus data has been erased and the monitoring system has been "reconfigured" so it only sucks up as much data as it's meant to, though the commissioner's keeping an keen eye on the project. So, the next time you worry British spies might know of the skeletons in your closet, remember they might not be as competent as you fear they are.

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