Investigation Finds The UK's Spy Agency Did Not Break Any Laws When It Tapped Into PRISM Data

from the of-course-it-didn't...-nothing-ever-does dept

In case anybody thought UK’s GCHQ may have broken a law or two by pulling data from the NSA’s PRISM surveillance net, they can now set their minds at ease. Like every other surveillance program in the UK and the US, it’s totally legal.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee launched an investigation into allegations Britain’s GCHQ surveillance agency circumvented British laws protecting the privacy of communications by accessing data from the U.S. program.

“From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded,” said the committee.

That’s a relief. For a little while, it looked as though sweeping data collection might be something that ran afoul of laws protecting citizens’ privacy or other limitations put in place to prevent domestic intelligence agencies from spying on their countrymen. You know, the sort of restrictions that separated us from our Cold War rivals and current totalitarian regimes.

On the bright side, the GCHQ at least has the decency to show up with a warrant. Classy.

A thorough investigation had shown the reports GCHQ compiled using U.S. intelligence were put together legally, it said. The agency possessed a warrant for interception signed by a government minister each time it asked for information from the United States, it added.

Oh, wait. A “warrant for interception” is remarkably similar to a FISA court order.

All interception warrants are valid for an initial period of three months. Upon renewal, warrants issued on serious crime grounds are valid for a further period of three months. Warrants renewed on national security/economic well-being grounds are valid for a further period of six months. Urgent authorisations are valid for five working days following the date of issue unless renewed by the Secretary of State.

And they go after the same data.

For mobile telephony

the telephone number from which the telephone call was made and the name and address of the subscriber and registered user of that telephone;

the telephone number dialed and, in cases involving supplementary services such as call forwarding or call transfer, any telephone number to which the call is forwarded or transferred;

the date and time of the start and end of the call;

the service used to make the call;

details of the SIM and phone used to make and receive each call;

for pre-paid services the date, time and place of activation; and

the cell ID and location used for each call.

And having one conveniently available “each time” the GCHQ asked sounds familiar, too. More specifically, the report makes this statement:

Further, in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, 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.

“Already in place.” A warrant pre-approval process, not unlike our “not a rubber stamp” FISA court approval process.

The process appears to be: if you’d like to grab some data, please stop by our offices during business hours to pick up a pre-filled out warrant. But don’t worry. It’s all legal and buttressed by plenty of “safeguards,” just the way it is over in the US.

The takeaway is simple: the laws governing these surveillance programs are terrible if this is what they permit. Perhaps there will be some major changes in the future. But all of this would have remained unchallenged without Snowden’s leaks. This just shows that, within our two governments, those who had direct knowledge were perfectly content with what was allowed. Even worse, they allowed expansions and reinterpretations of these laws in order to enable and encourage additional surveillance of domestic citizens.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Investigation Finds The UK's Spy Agency Did Not Break Any Laws When It Tapped Into PRISM Data”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
FM Hilton (profile) says:

Following in our footsteps

Britain is not known for being behind the times. After all, this is the country where in London, every single major street has cameras recording your every move.

Of course they find there’s no problem with their spying agency-how could they?

It’s all written down, and “legal”. Neveryoumind about it being invasive of individual rights to privacy.

Not that many people there care, either-just like here.

Cotic says:

You would think that Article 8 of the EU Human Rights Act would apply –

Hopefully people step up and buy a VPN or $3 p/mth VPS and run as much of their traffic through it as possible.
Personally I’m looking forward to some decent distributed+encrypted alternatives to internet essentials.

Anonymous Coward says:

and did anyone actually expect a different verdict here? that bitch May is so far up the arse of the US government, she’d sell her mother to please it! she’s a very dangerous woman and she never have been given the position she has. like those in the USA, nothing is more important than having a ‘police state’ in control and getting as much information from all the ordinary people while getting fuck all on those considered as being threats to nations! just as with the USA, this attitude is a fucking disgrace!!

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This takes international cooperation and outsourcing to whole new levels!

Except that it’s been going on forever. The point in the article is well made:

But all of this would have remained unchallenged without Snowden’s leaks.

He put something that’s been going on for decades firmly into the light. Which would explain why he seems to be rather more wanted than the average terrorist leader…

RyanNerd (profile) says:

King Obama and King Cameron

?They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.?
― Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin
?A desire for privacy does not imply shameful secrets; Moglen argues, again and again, that without anonymity in discourse, free speech is impossible, and hence also democracy. The right to speak the truth to power does not shield the speaker from the consequences of doing so; only comparable power or anonymity can do that.?
― Nick Harkaway, The Blind Giant
?No one likes to see a government folder with his name on it.?
― Stephen King, Firestarter
?What man art thou that, thus bescreened in night,
So stumblest on my counsel?
*Who are you? Why do you hide in the darkness and listen to my private thoughts?*?
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Anonymous Coward says:

Like fuck it didnt

Like fuck it didn’t , it violated the privacy act of canada for one…should i be launching a class action lawsuit on the british gov’t?
LAST i checked they dont have any rights to spy on Canadian citizens. ZERO NONE…..NOTTA.

The fact stephen harpers conservatives are not on this tells you the level of world wide treason is nearing the unbearable levels…

SMARTEN UP POLITICIANS OR ELSE…it wont be long before the real revolution comes….NOW SPY THAT FUUCKTARDS

Duke (profile) says:

Not just any kind of warrant...

At least the FISA version has to get a real warrant, actually approved by a judge. The UK version seems to rely on ministerial warrants simply signed by a senior politician.

From what I remember of quotes at the time, these warrants involve the Foreign Secretary signing a piece of paper every 6 months saying that GCHQ can do whatever it wants to do. I’m not even sure if he is required to read it first.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Snowden!!! The true American!!

Look I know some secrets need to be kept secret but some do need to be blasted to the world to let all people know what is happening.

Snowden might be one of the greatest patriots of our time. For showing to the all of us in the US and the world what BS is happening in our names and by the people we think we elected to represent what is best for all of us.

It is so clear to anyone now that the US prefers access to all information at all times. Constitution be damned. Foreign laws are not worthy of consideration. Fuck them and the governments that created them.

The US police state wants to know and your rights shall not infringe on that want to know.

Americans have long suspected our government (those not beholden to it) are doing a lot more than they say they are doing. But Snowden has shown us proof we can not ignore or deny. Unless we benefit from it.

We should all thank Snowden and support him in any way we can so that a person that wants us the US to become a better country not a police state does not become a victim of a clearly over-reaching government.

Carl Hammond says:

All wrong

The Government own the investigation and try to play down what is clearly a breach of liberty for millions of people. Do not be hoodwinked by the propaganda in the news which is also controlled by the Governments.
Edward Snowden is a HERO !!!!!! Governments take note and be held accountable for your actions!!!!!!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...