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  • Mal McCallion

UK Spy Agencies Seek Eased Laws on AI Data Use

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

"Shaken, not stirred" might soon apply to your personal data if UK intelligence agencies have their way.

GCHQ, MI6 and MI5 are lobbying for a relaxation of what they term 'burdensome' surveillance laws. Their goal? To freely train artificial intelligence (AI) models with copious amounts of personal data.

The proposed changes would ease the path for these agencies to utilise certain types of data, by diluting safeguards designed to protect privacy and prevent misuse of sensitive information. This move has set alarm bells ringing among privacy experts and civil liberties groups. It threatens to unravel legal protections put in place in 2016 following Edward Snowden's revelations about intrusive state surveillance.

The UK's intelligence agencies are increasingly harnessing AI to sift through the growing mountains of data they hold. However, privacy advocates argue that the rapid advancement of AI necessitates stronger, not weaker, regulation.

The agencies are advocating for a reduction in safeguards regulating their use of large volumes of information, known as bulk personal datasets (BPDs). These datasets often contain information about vast groups of people, most of whom are unlikely to be of intelligence interest. The agencies want to relax rules around BPDs where they believe individuals have a 'low or no expectation of privacy'.

The proposed changes were presented to Lord David Anderson, a senior barrister commissioned by the Home Office to independently review changes to the Investigatory Powers Act. Lord Anderson acknowledged that the agencies see current regulations as 'disproportionately burdensome'. However, he recommended retaining some degree of ministerial and judicial oversight in the process.

As we move into an era where AI and data privacy are increasingly intertwined, this development raises critical questions. How much personal data is too much in the hands of intelligence agencies? And where do we draw the line between national security and personal privacy?

The debate continues, and it's one we all need to pay attention to. After all, it's not just about AI; it's about the ethical transparency of our future.

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