UK's GCHQ Can Get Warrantless Access To Bulk NSA Data

from the keeping-your-hands-clean dept

Last week, we learned that the GCHQ certainly isn’t engaged in mass surveillance — provided you redefine the meaning of “mass” and “surveillance” in unconventional ways. Now we discover that maybe it doesn’t really need to, since it can just ask the NSA and other secret services for access to their raw data without even needing a warrant, as a group of human rights organizations have discovered:

Details of previously unknown internal policies, which GCHQ was forced to reveal during legal proceedings challenging their surveillance practices in the wake of the Snowden revelations, reveal that intelligence agencies can gain access to bulk data collected from US cables or through US corporate partnerships without having to obtain a warrant from the [UK’s] Secretary of State. This position seems to conflict with reassurances by the Intelligence Services Committee in July 2013 that whenever GCHQ seeks information from the US a warrant is in place.

The “arrangements”, as they are called by Government, also suggest that intercept material received from foreign intelligence agencies is not subject to the already weak safeguards that are applied to communications that are intercepted by the UK’s Tempora programme. On the face of the descriptions provided to the claimants, the British intelligence agencies can trawl through foreign intelligence material without meaningful restrictions and can keep such material, which includes both communications content and metadata, for up to two years.

Once again, we see evidence that intelligence agencies are happy to do the dirty work for each other so that they can all claim to have clean hands — just as the outgoing head of the GCHQ claimed when he said that people there would “walk out the door” rather than be involved in anything so sordid as mass surveillance. It also shows how even the weak safeguards and ineffectual oversight of spy agencies can be circumvented by this kind of mutual help, something pointed out by the organizations behind the latest information:

The disclosed “arrangements” bring into sharp relief the minimal safeguards and weak restrictions on raw intelligence sharing with foreign governments, including between the UK and the United States. The fact that GCHQ can request and receive large quantities of “unanalysed” raw bulk data from foreign intelligence agencies without a warrant in place, simply because it would “not be technically feasible” to obtain it in the UK, shows the inadequacies in [the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000] to deal with intelligence agency co-operation. Under these “arrangements”, there is a clear risk that agencies can sidestep British legal restrictions to obtain access to vast amounts of data.

There is a minor silver lining to these latest revelations that the situation in the UK is even worse than previously believed. It’s the fact that a legal action against GCHQ’s mass surveillance has, unexpectedly, forced the UK government to admit to even more unsavory practices. Here’s how that came about:

Descriptions of the policies were disclosed to the parties after a secret hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which is currently considering a challenge to GCHQ’s surveillance practices that has been brought by human rights organisations including Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International. A public hearing of the case was held in July, but these ?arrangements” were revealed to the Tribunal in a closed hearing that the claimants were barred from attending. Some details about the policies are now disclosed in order for the claimants to provide comment.

That’s a useful reminder that no matter how hopeless these actions might seem, they are not only pretty much the only avenue open to human rights organizations who wish to challenge mass surveillance by governments, but they sometimes yield valuable new information that bolsters the case for greater oversight and tighter regulation of spy agencies.

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Comments on “UK's GCHQ Can Get Warrantless Access To Bulk NSA Data”

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15 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

as disgraceful as these revelations are, and regardless of what the courts decide in the present or future court cases concerning the surveillance of citizens and trawling up of peoples data, the spy agencies will carry on doing whatever the hell they want! no government is going to attempt, be allowed let alone be able to stop what they are doing, simply because the practices will go back under cover, away from prying eyes, until the next crock of shit happens and the public are then informed!!

Dismembered3po (profile) says:

So, basically....

Basically what’s happening here is:

NSA captures EVERYTHING

GCHQ captures EVERYTHING ELSE

NSA forwards its EVERYTHING, unminimized, in bulk to GCHQ

GCHQ forwards its EVERYTHING ELSE, unminimized, in bulk to NSA

NSA then asks to look at the foreign EVERYTHING now stored at GCHQ. NSA can claim that it’s only looking at “foreign data – no warrant required.”

GCHQ then asks to look at the foreign EVERYTHING ELSE now stored at NSA. GCHQ can claim that it’s only looking at “foreign data – no warrant required.”

Basically, the data being housed in the shed in Utah isn’t AMERICAN data. It’ the Britt’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

We should not be surprised of anything anymore that was considered “tinfoil” (a meme introduced by the CIA itself, the derogatory term “conspiracy theorist” was introduced by the CIA to discredit people not believing the Warren Commission about JFK.

JFK’s killing being the first attack on post-WW2 America and what it was standing for, especially under JFK. In many ways more important than 911, he said things like this was going on back in his time (secretive government agencies), got killed soon after making a speech about those and how they’re intended on crushing freedom of humanity.

Anonymous Coward says:

So we get to see what they want us to see, and trust them that the things their witholding, their doing so in the interest of the public

When are they going to realise they’ve lost that trust, by withholding information on a practice i wholeheartedly disagree with to begin with……..surveilance and secrecy has no place in a free and just society, no EFECTIVE safeguards, and the ammount of control thats given to those who DO decide to use it for nerfarious reasons, is something that will have been unseen in our history…….surveilance unfortunatly is not new, the internet brings it to whole knew level in what the bad guy can do, with the moral compass to come with it……..imagine a scenario in the past where surveilancewas not used for good, and times that by ten when adding the internet to the equation

Im not saying i know of any particular mis-going-ons, going on, i just know that if one is, or if one does, they’ll have the most effective tool ever seen in our histories, and secrecy, through “beaucratic” clapper speeches, plus the technical secrecy of folks who dont know technology well enough to understand when somethings wrong, or access to resources to stop it

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