LONDON — A British intelligence watchdog defended U.K. security agencies’ bulk online data collection Thursday but called for a new law to clarify the agencies’ “intrusive powers” to help improve public trust.
A landmark report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee found that the intelligence agencies acted within existing laws in their bulk interception of online data, saying that it was necessary and proportionate and helped to prevent terrorist plots and cyberattacks.
The watchdog launched the inquiry after the 2013 disclosures by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, that revealed secret details of U.S. and British surveillance activities.
In one of the report’s redacted sections, the committee said that intelligence analysts read only a small percentage of everything that is scooped up online — although that amounts to “around *** thousand items a day.”
“Only the communications of suspected criminals or national security targets are deliberately selected for examination,” the report said.
While GCHQ, Britain’s electronic spy agency, is capable of bulk interception, “it does not equate to blanket surveillance, nor does it equate to indiscriminate surveillance,” Hazel Blears, a member of Parliament on the committee, said in a statement. “GCHQ is not collecting or reading everyone’s e-mails: They do not have the legal authority, the resources, or the technical capability to do so.”