UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency MI5 has been ordered by a senior judge not to delete vast databanks of personal information it is storing pending the outcome of a trial over the legality of its surveillance procedures.

The case being heard by Lord Justice Singh, the president of the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), is an attempt to establish the extent of internal failures – admitted last year by MI5 – over the way the security service captures, processes, stores and uses the bulk interceptions of data acquired through surveillance and hacking programmes.

MI5 has a duty to ensure such material is held no longer than required or copied more often than needed. It has been accused of operating “ungoverned spaces” where such regulatory duties were routinely ignored.

The IPT hears complaints about the operation of the intelligence services.

Lord Justice Singh delivered a sharp rebuke to lawyers for MI5 who questioned the feasibility of his legal directive. “This is an order of a judicial tribunal,” Singh said. “If it turns out the respondents [MI5] have breached the orders of the tribunal, that will have consequences.”

The sharp exchange between the judge and MI5’s lawyers came at the end of an opening hearing into a joint-claim by the human rights groups Liberty and Privacy International. Both have called for interception warrants obtained unlawfully by MI5 to be quashed.

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