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Bulk collection of communications data is not mass surveillance, the Home Secretary has insisted, as she came under pressure from a parliamentary watchdog to provide hard evidence of when its use has successfully protected the public.
Theresa May told the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) that she would not commit to releasing statistics on the success of bulk data collection but pledged to consider whether more could be done to improve confidence in the action of Britain's spies.
However, Mrs May dismissed calls for ministers to reconsider its policy of "neither confirm nor deny" when discussing intelligence matters, adding: "I think there are times when it is entirely right that the Government should be silent on things."
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The Home Secretary also revealed that signing off warrants for intrusive surveillance takes up a "significant" amount of her time.
Mrs May was giving evidence as part of a series of public sessions held by the ordinarily secret ISC. Its inquiry into security and privacy was set up following the disclosures by Edward Snowden of the scale of the bulk collection of personal data by British listening post GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.
Earlier in the week, former Home Secretary David Blunkett told the Committee, chaired by Sir Malcom Rifkind, stronger oversight of the UK's intelligence agencies was needed and warned "old-fashioned paternalism" of secrecy based on perceived security interests was undermining public confidence.
An analogy frequently used to described the bulk data collection by intelligence agencies - that they have to acquire a "haystack" of data in order to find a "needle" of information - was put to the Home Secretary by the Committee.
Mrs May replied: "The description of the haystack is a good one, because if you're searching for the needle in the haystack you have to have the haystack in the first place in order to look for that needle.
"What's important in this, is the mitigations, the targeting, the processes that go through to ensure that this is not just some random, sort of mass surveillance... Mentioned earlier."
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