UK Spooks Trawl Through Online Comms Thanks to Secret Policy


Rights groups have warned that the UK government are likely carrying out mass surveillance of netizens’ online communications and search histories, after the country’s top counter-terrorism official was forced to reveal that no warrant needs to be issued for such activity.  

Charles Farr, director general of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, made the comments in a statement forced by a legal challenge brought by several groups including Privacy International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Liberty, after the Edward Snowden revelations.
Crucially, he claimed that communications via providers including Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail and Google were classed as “external communications” by the government because their servers are based outside of the country.
According to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which regulates the surveillance powers of public bodies, UK spooks only need to request a warrant for an individual or address if they are dealing with “internal communications” – and only then if unlawful activity is suspected.
“By defining the use of ‘platforms’ such as Facebook, Twitter and Google as ‘external communications’, British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications – simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK,” Privacy International deputy director Eric King wrote.
“Such an approach suggests that GCHQ believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept all communications in and out of the British Isles.”
Snooping on these so-called “external” comms is permissible even if those involved in an online conversation are both British, the report claimed.
Referring to Farr’s lengthy statement, King added:
“Even though the government is conducting mass surveillance – intercepting and scanning through all communications in order to work out whether they are internal or external – they consider that such interception ‘has less importance’ than whether a person actually reads the communication, which is where the government believes ‘the substantive interference with privacy arises’.”   
Bizarrely, the government seems to believe that even if a privacy violation occurs, it shouldn’t be classed as an “active intrusion” because the spy in question will eventually forget about the info gleaned.
Farr’s statement represents the first time the British government has commented on how it has manipulated the country’s legal framework to allow the mass interception of its citizens’ communications through the TEMPORA program revealed by Snowden.

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