via The Guardian
Amid leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, senior intelligence source reveals worries were voiced in 2008
Senior figures inside British intelligence have been alarmed by GCHQ‘s (Government Communications Headquarters) secret decision to tap into transatlantic cables in order to engage in the bulk interception of phone calls and internet traffic.
According to one source who has been directly involved in GCHQ operations, concerns were expressed when the project was being discussed internally in 2008: “We felt we were starting to overstep the mark with some of it. People from MI5 were complaining that they were going too far from a civil liberties perspective … We all had reservations about it, because we all thought: ‘If this was used against us, we wouldn’t stand a chance’.”
The Guardian revealed on Friday that GCHQ has placed more than 200 probes on transatlantic cables and is processing 600m “telephone events” a day as well as up to 39m gigabytes of internet traffic. Using a programme codenamed Tempora, it can store and analyse voice recordings, the content of emails, entries on Facebook, the use of websites as well as the “metadata” which records who has contacted who. The programme is shared with GCHQ’s American partner, the National Security Agency.
■ Exploits existing law which was passed by parliament without any anticipation that it would be used for this purpose.
■ For the first time allows GCHQ to process bulk internal UK traffic which is routed overseas via these cables.
■ Allows the NSA to engage in bulk intercepts of internal US traffic which would be forbidden in its own territory.
■ Functions with no effective oversight.
The key law is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, Ripa, which requires the home secretary or foreign secretary to sign warrants for the interception of the communications of defined targets. But the law also allows the foreign secretary to sign certificates that authorise GCHQ to trawl for broad categories of information on condition that one end of the communication is outside the UK.
According to the UK source: “Not so long ago, this was all about attaching crocodile clips to copper wires. And it was all about voice. Now, it’s about the internet – massive scale – but still using the same law that was devised for crocodile clips. Ripa was primarily designed for voice, not for this level of interception. They are going round Ripa. The legislation doesn’t exist for this. They are using old legislation and adapting it.”