Almost 600,000 requests for supposedly confidential information like email and text messages have been made by UK authorities. This is between roughly 80,000 and 90,000 more requests made by the police and secret services than in 2011.
Sir Paul Kennedy, who wrote the report that revealed this data, claims that the rise in requests was influenced by the fact that London hosted the2012 Summer Olympic Games. Though this is a believable point, we’d have to analyze the data for 2013 (when it’s all available) to see if there’s any merit to that claim.
In the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s annual report, Sir Paul Kennedy writes that a number of operations undertaken to ensure the safety of the games drove up the number. Kennedy also said that many of the reports related to a single investigation, and that the total number of people targeted was lower than in 2011. Those claims have yet to be substantiated by further evidence, but he claims the number can be estimated, and it would be much lower.
The report confesses that five requests for all communicative data were used to wrongfully detain innocent people. Kennedy noted that the use of data intercepts benefitted the UK in thwarting numerous threats. Data intercepting was cited as a worthwhile contributor to success regarding large-scale organized crime and national security.
Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch challenged the notion that a small staff of people can thoroughly investigate so many requests. Pickles calls out the commissioner for being tight-lipped about his investigative methods, implying that the commissioner’s silence is cause for concern.
The reasoning behind his criticism is that the entire surveillance regime needs to be revamped to remain effective. The intense scrutiny of the surveillance regime comes in light of the PRISM scandal — allegations that the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters exploited a grey area in the law to access private communications data via the PRISM programme.