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MI5 data-gathering powers helped thwart dissident attacks: report

By Michael McHugh

Published 20/08/2016

Powers allowing MI5 to collect huge amounts of electronic information helped foil dissident attacks and put suspected perpetrators in court, a major review has claimed. Picture posed by model
Powers allowing MI5 to collect huge amounts of electronic information helped foil dissident attacks and put suspected perpetrators in court, a major review has claimed. Picture posed by model

Powers allowing MI5 to collect huge amounts of electronic information helped foil dissident attacks and put suspected perpetrators in court, a major review has claimed.

Telephones belonging to members of anti-peace process groups were identified, leading to the recovery of explosives and the arrest of an individual committing a terrorist offence before harm was caused, the report said.

Bulk powers are among the most controversial tactics set to be covered by new UK surveillance laws.

They are used to access communications data - the who, when and where of an email or text message but not the content - in large amounts.

Terror laws watchdog David Anderson QC wrote: "Bulk capabilities are essential to understanding the plans of resilient, experienced terrorists and stopping their attacks".

The secret services acquired the information in large volumes and used it to generate intelligence about threats not easily obtained otherwise.

But some privacy campaigners have raised concerns.

The techniques were seen in a recent operation to identify phones linked to a dissident attack here, Mr Anderson's report indicated.

The information helped lead to the arrest and charge of an individual with terror offences. Phones not previously known to MI5 were also identified.

The report insisted: "It would have taken more time and been considerably more resource-intensive to discover the telephones without (the use of) bulk acquisition data."

The method was used in 2014 to identify a mobile phone being used by a dissident.

It was intercepted and police were able to arrest the individual while he was committing an offence. He was later prosecuted.

It would have been possible to identify it without bulk data, the report claimed.

It added, however: "The alternative method would have involved significant collateral intrusion in the form of gathering information about many telephones - all but one of them of no intelligence interest.

"This method would also have taken longer and so carried the risk that the correct phone might not have been identified in time".

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