The revelation is disclosed in a report by MPs on the mass surveillance techniques exposed by Edward Snowden
A number of British intelligence staff have been sacked for inappropriately accessing personal information, it has emerged.
The revelation came in a long-awaited parliamentary report which was announced after whistle-blower Edward Snowden exposed mass surveillance techniques used by GCHQ and its US counterpart.
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) inquiry recommended a single law be introduced to regulate the UK’s intelligence agencies and their powers to snoop on private communications.
The ISC report concludes that the legal framework governing GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 is “unnecessarily complicated” and “lacks transparency”.
But the inquiry found the intelligence agencies were not trying to cheat the law through mass surveillance programmes.
When asked by Sky News for further details about why intelligence staff were sacked, the committee’s spokeswoman MP Hazel Blears replied: “I think we say in the report that these incidents have been extremely rare.
“We also recommend in our report that these matters should be a criminal offence because we regard this as extremely serious indeed.
“If you’re trying to get public confidence around privacy then if someone breaches the rules then there ought to be severe sanctions for that kind of breach.
“We’re not in a position today to give you the detailed information … but I think the fact the committee recommends it be a criminal offence gives an indication of how seriously we take it.”
The committee said thousands of private communications are read by GCHQ spies on a daily basis using bulk interception methods.
In a section of the report that is heavily redacted, the committee said it is “unavoidable that some innocent communications may have been incidentally collected”.
Ms Blears said: “There is a legitimate public expectation of openness and transparency in today’s society, and the security and intelligence agencies are not exempt from that.
“While we accept that they need to operate in secret if they are to be able to protect us from those who are plotting in secret to harm us, the Government must make every effort to ensure that information is placed in the public domain when it is safe to do so.
“This report is an important first step toward greater transparency.
“Nevertheless, there is more that could and should be done.
“This is essential to improve public understanding and retain confidence in the vital work of the intelligence and security agencies.”
Ms Blears was speaking on behalf of the committee after Sir Malcom Rifkind resigned as its chair following a cash-for-access controversy.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of rights campaign group Liberty, said: “The ISC has repeatedly shown itself as a simple mouthpiece for the spooks – so clueless and ineffective that it’s only thanks to Edward Snowden that it had the slightest clue of the agencies’ antics.
“The committee calls this report a landmark for ‘openness and transparency’ – but how do we trust agencies who have acted unlawfully, hacked the world’s largest Sim card manufacturer and developed technologies capable of collecting our login details and passwords, manipulating our mobile devices and hacking our computers and webcams?
“No doubt it would be simpler if we went along with the spies’ motto of ‘no scrutiny for us, no privacy for you’ – but what an appalling deal for the British public.”