The UK Government Has a Massive Internet Spying Programme

By Chris Mills on at

Thought that PRISM was scary, or irrelevant because it was operated by the NSA? Oh, think again my friend. The Guardian (courtesy of its handy pocket whistleblower) has just revealed that GCHQ has a vast programme of tapping fibre-optic cables in the UK, collecting unimaginable amounts of data on an "infinite" number of people.

According to the Guardian and Edward Snowden, the GCHQ programme revolves around tapping fibre-optic cables going overseas. It's able to do this thanks to an obscure clause in the relatively old RIPA law, which states that communications can be intercepted pretty much with impunity, as long as one end of the communique is located overseas. Thus, the tapping of trans-atlantic fibre-optic cables.

As you can imagine, a vast amount of traffic flows through those undersea cables -- not just information going overseas, but often messages and the like, which might go from one UK domestic to another, via an overseas server. According to the leak, both content and data is accessible in real time, and is also stored -- for 3 days in the case of content, or for 30 days in the case of metadata. There are 300 GCHQ analysts dedicated to trawling through the data; according to a Guardian source knowledgable about the stuff, the analysts are allowed to look at it as long as "triggers" are identified.

What those triggers are, we don't know exactly -- but it's clear they it's not a limited surveillance programme. According to GCHQ lawyers in a leaked memo, it would be impossible to list the total number of people targeted because "this would be an infinite list which we couldn't manage".

Worse, all the data is pretty much shared with the NSA, who have been on board with the programme ever since it ramped up to full-scale in the summer of 2011. The NSA even got to choose about half of the search terms.

Both the legality and appropriateness of these measures are sure to be called into question over the next few days -- but either way, it's clear that the government is spying on us in a big way, far greater than its protestations over PRISM would indicate.

The one thing that really chills me? This line from an NSA source:

"The criteria [for being allowed to look at traffic] are security, terror, organised crime. And economic well-being."

But that's just government in the age of the internet, I suppose. [The Guardian]

Image credit: The Guardian