Documents from NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden have revealed how the British spy agency GCHQ has “secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency” (full story here).
GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications… This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites…
Britain’s technical capacity to tap into the cables that carry the world’s communications… has made GCHQ an intelligence superpower.
By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.
The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: “We have a light oversight regime compared with the US”.
The scale of the programme is constantly increasing as more cables are tapped and GCHQ data storage facilities in the UK and abroad are expanded with the aim of processing terabits (thousands of gigabits) of data at a time.
Germany is now officially blasting Britain over the mass surveillance program (see story here).
The German government has expressed the growing public anger of its citizens over Britain’s mass programme of monitoring global phone and internet traffic and directly challenged UK ministers over the whole basis of GCHQ’s Project Tempora surveillance operation.
The German justice minister, who has described the secret operation by Britain’s eavesdropping agency as a catastrophe that sounded “like a Hollywood nightmare”, warned UK ministers that free and democratic societies could not flourish when states shielded their actions in “a veil of secrecy”.
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has made clear her frustration that many of the questions raised by the disclosures made by the whistleblower have gone unanswered by the Obama administration.
Meanwhile, in another story here, the Guardian says that, “former shadow home secretary [David Davis] says intelligence agencies can hand over personal data to US to get around ‘inconvenient laws'”.
Hmm. You mean the UK can send data over to the US where the US has no restrictions preventing it from snooping on UK citizens, and vice versa, the US can send data over to the UK which can similarly snoop on US citizens? How convenient.
Or as David Davis warns here, the spy agencies are only subject to law “in theory”. This is exactly the problem.