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Thursday, 01 May 2014 10:55

Britain begged to be let into NSA spying scheme

Written by Nick Farrell



How humiliating

British spooks begged to be involved in National Security Agency’s massive electronic spying efforts and lied about it to their superiors.

The Government Communications Headquarters has presented its collaboration with the National Security Agency’s massive electronic spying efforts as proportionate, carefully monitored, and well within the bounds of privacy laws. However, a new document from the Edward Snowden collection shows that GCHQ secretly coveted the NSA’s vast troves of private communications and sought “unsupervised access” to its data as recently as last year. 

In April 2013 GCHQ requested broad new authority to tap into data collected under a law that authorizes a variety of controversial NSA surveillance initiatives, including the PRISM program. GCHQ proposed would have provided British spooks with greater access to millions of international phone calls and emails that the NSA siphons directly from phone networks and the internet. It is not clear if the NSA granted GCHQ’s request, but they do show that the NSA was “supportive” of it. 

GCHQ was permitted extensive access to PRISM during the London Olympics in 2012 but it is not clear if it continued after that. In the wake of the Guardian‘s PRISM disclosures, British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a lengthy statement saying that warrants to intercept the communications of any individual in the United Kingdom must be personally signed by a cabinet secretary.

Likewise, the British Intelligence and Security Committee reported in July that, after reviewing “GCHQ’s access to the content of communications, the legal framework which governs that access, and the arrangements GCHQ has with its overseas counterparts for sharing such information,” the spy agency’s collaboration with the NSA was within the bounds of British law.

However it looks like someone was not telling the full truth if GCHQ only months earlier appears to have been negotiating to have fewer restrictions on how the NSA’s surveillance data is obtained and handled by British spies.

Nick Farrell

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