Before PRESTON, there was "TINKERBELL"
The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee were told earlier this year that "Bulk Personal Datasets may be acquired through overt and covert channels" (such as by intercepting data links), and that the agencies, including NTAC, share Bulk Personal Datasets between them.
The legal authority for the acquisition and use of Bulk Personal Datasets was claimed to be authorised by the Intelligence Services Act 1994, but to be "implicit rather than explicit".
As the minister who arranged for the 1994 Intelligence Services Act to pass through Parliament, David Davis says that officials never conveyed, even secretly, how they saw the law as authorising the creation of a joined-up secret national database.
"What is becoming ever more clear in the latest revelations around the IP Bill is that the level of intrusive surveillance has for over ten years been massively more than the government ever admitted to Parliament, most particularly in the field of bulk data sets", he told The Reg.
Ironically, it was the revelation of Britain's first national telephone tapping centre, known to the police as "Tinkerbell", that forced the government to acknowledge and then legally regulate phone tapping. Tinkerbell was located in Chelsea, half a mile from where PRESTON now operates. I revealed the Tinkerbell centre in the New Statesman magazine in 1980, forcing the government to announce a white paper, appoint a judge, and finally to create the Interception of Communications Act.
That act also legalised bulk collection from overseas cables, I wrote at the time. Confirmation of that story has taken 30 years, to the time of Edward Snowden.
The Reg, seemingly alone in the UK press, has not been 15 years behind in hearing of and warning about the Big Brother national database. Our Christopher Williams, now at the Telegraph, got wind of the NTAC central database story in 2009, and also got the first scoop on the start of GCHQ's mass surveillance "Mastering the Internet" program, now revealed as Project Tempora in documents provided by Edward Snowden.
Vigilance on behalf of liberty has had little discernible impact, except in the field of semantics. Across 299 pages in the new Investigatory Powers Bill [PDF], the word "database" does not appear once.
Billions of call and internet records, stolen financial data, intercepted travel records, a heap of bulk personal datasets on matters including religion, racial or ethnic origin, political views, medical condition, sexual orientation, or legally privileged, journalistic or otherwise confidential information, all joined up together and archived in secret do not constitute a "database", whatever techie readers may think. And that's official. ®