Is BT handing over data on Brits in bulk?

phone_exchangeLast year, the Guardian published an order under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act made to Verizon, which made clear that the NSA was collecting details of phone calls made by American citizens not on a targeted basis, but in bulk.

We have a simple question – is the same happening here?

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, our Director raised this issue and revealed that BT had refused to deny that it hands over data in bulk:

“Late last night I received a letter from British Telecom refusing to deny that they are handing over information in bulk on thousands or millions of British citizens and that mirrors a refusal to deny the same situation in a parliamentary answer received by Mr Davis.”

“My concerns is that there is the activity going on under the Telecommunications Act that is unsupervised and that is why BT cannot publicly refuse that they are handing over information in bulk.”

“I asked BT categorically, “Does BT provide data in bulk on thousands or millions of customers who are not individually named in a RIPA notice to the UK Government or its agencies and, if so, under what legal authority?” I received absolutely no substantive answer to that question and I cannot imagine, given the severity of what that entails, why they could not deny that.

As Dr Julian Huppert noted, “Presumably, if they were not doing it, they would be legally allowed to say, “No, we’re not doing it”.”

A Parliamentary Question tabled by David Davis MP also did not contain a denial:

Mr David Davis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether she has given directions under Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 to the providers of telecommunications services for the acquisition of data in bulk relating to (a) thousands and (b) millions of people. [186135]

James Brokenshire[holding answer 4 February 2014]:Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 states that the Secretary of State may issue directions in the interests of national security and, as with the practice of previous Governments, we do not comment on security matters.


So what is going on under Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act?

As Sir Mark Waller, Intelligence Services Commissioner, told the same committee hearing: “There is no statutory oversight of that section.”