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20 May, 2019 17:46

UK home secretary wants closed hearing to keep MI5 security breaches secret from public and media

UK home secretary wants closed hearing to keep MI5 security breaches secret from public and media

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has applied for a secret hearing at the high court to prevent the public and media from finding out about the nature of “serious” surveillance safeguards breaches committed by M15.

Javid has requested that the court hold a “closed material procedure” which would exclude both the media and public, to look into the failures by the intelligence agency in its handling of material intercepted under warrant, the Guardian reported.

The home secretary said in a written parliamentary statement last week that MI5 had reported compliance risks “within certain technology environments used to store and analyse data, including material obtained under the Investigatory Powers Act.”

The court heard on Monday that MI5’s compliance issues were ongoing and human rights organization Liberty said last week that the breaches were so serious that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) sent a group of inspectors to MI5 to investigate.

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Ben Jaffey QC, a representative for the Liberty, told the court on Monday that important information about the breaches had not been made available, including “how many people are affected” and “whether those are people of intelligence interest or whether it’s a [large-scale] data breach.”

In his seven-page submission to the court, Javid said the intelligence agency is currently investigating “the potential for similar compliance risks, although on a much smaller scale, within two discrete areas of another technology environment used by MI5.”

If similar compliance risks are identified in those areas, they could require “immediate mitigation” and could not be disclosed in open court, Javid said, citing potential damage to “national security.”

Megan Goulding, another lawyer for Liberty, said that while the breach is “deeply concerning” in itself, the fact that wider public is only finding out about it because of the organization’s legal case showed how “fatally flawed” the oversight system for security services is.

Goulding said Javid's request for a secret hearing was a “clear-cut example” of how the “supposed safeguarding and oversight system” was failing to protect the public from “excessive and unwarranted surveillance and data retention powers” created under the Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed the ‘Snooper’s charter’ by critics.

The case comes as Javid and others have echoed US concerns over Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and in particular its role in developing 5G infrastrucure across the United Kingdom.

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Earlier this month, Gavin Williamson was fired as defense secretary after allegedly leaking information from a National Security Council meeting to the media about plans to give Huawei limited access to the UK's 5G network.

Javid has also recently announced plans to publish a new espionage bill aimed at tackling activity by hostile state actors and to potentially update UK treason laws to target British nationals working on behalf of other state actors.

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