UK's GCHQ Can Get Warrantless Access To Bulk NSA Data
from the keeping-your-hands-clean dept
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.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 "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.
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.
Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+