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GCHQ's Use of NSA's Prism Data is Legal, says UK

It has been claimed that GCHQ acquires data on UK citizens from the NSA's Prism program in a manner that circumvents UK law. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has been quick to investigate, and has concluded that in this instance GCHQ operates within UK law.

A statement from Rifkind says that the committee "has taken detailed evidence from GCHQ," including scrutiny of the access to content, the legal framework governing the process, and arrangements with 'overseas counterparts' for sharing such information.

In particular, the committee obtained lists of all the individuals that were subject to monitoring, the selectors (such as email addresses) that were used to specify the targets, and a list of the warrants and internal authorizations in place for each of the targets. 

Its conclusion is that the reports produced by GCHQ based on its Prism data are legal under the Intelligence Services Act 1994. It further concluded that every time GCHQ asked for specific data from the NSA, "a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place, in accordance with the legal safeguards contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000."

Rifkind's statement concludes with the observation that in some areas the relevant legislation is expressed in general terms, and that the committee is now "examining the complex interaction between the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the policies and procedures that underpin them." There is no indication on whether the committee believes that such an examination could lead to making GCHQ's acquisition of intelligence data simpler or more restricted.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, commented, "If the law is not fit for purpose, the question of not breaking it is largely irrelevant. These laws were written when the internet was unknown to the majority of people and was far from the minds of the Parliamentarians who drafted the laws GCHQ is now bound by many years on."

There is also no mention in the statement on GCHQ's own Tempora interception program. After revealing the existence of Prism, Edward Snowden added, "It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight... They [GCHQ] are worse than the US." He was referring to Tempora, which was described by Computing as a "clandestine surveillance program [that] involves GCHQ receiving a secret feed of all internet and telephone traffic from more than 200 fibre optic cables. The companies that operate the cables are paid from public funds for their compliance."

This exclusion of Tempora worries Pickles. “I am deeply concerned," he said, "that this investigation appears to have focused on only one of several programs we now know to be operational, particularly the storage of the content of communications as they leave the UK. We are still a long way from getting to the bottom of what has been happening.”

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