GCHQ, Int'l spying, scandal: a look

Recent revelations about the Government Communications Headquarters show Britain, just like the United States, keeps its citizensâ„¢ presence in the virtual world under the close surveillance of its spying agencies.

The Guardian revealed on Friday that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been secretly accessing the network of cables, which carry the worldâ„¢s phone calls and internet traffic and is sharing the data with its American counterpart the National Security Agency (NSA).

The paper revealed that GCHQ has been running Operation Tempora since 18 months ago that includes two programs, Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation.

The paper said GCHQ is tapping 200 internet links in total, each with a data rate of 10Gbps, with the agency having the technical capacity to concurrently analyze 46 of these 200 streams of data at a time.

That means a capacity to potentially spy on 600 million Å“telephone events” on a daily basis that makes GCHQ an intelligence superpower and the elder among the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The GCHQ is officially in charge of providing signals intelligence and information assurance to the British government and armed forces and is a subsidiary of the Foreign Office.

It operates under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) that requires the tapping of defined targets to get signed authorizations from either the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary.

The agency is now legally spying on the British public and the world by a clause in the act that allows its top boss, the Foreign Secretary, to authorize the interception of almost any material as long as at least one end of the targeted communication is not in Britain.

The ambiguous clause effectively gives Britain a legal justification to look into any communications carried out using non-British service providers, including many popular internet websites such as Facebook and Google.

However, GCHQâ„¢s record shows it is rather interested in foreign authorities than ordinary people.

The Cheltenham-based agency, originally formed during the First World War as Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) and renamed as GCHQ in June 1946, was almost unknown to the public until 1983 when it got the eyes of media during the trial of Geoffrey Prime, a Soviet spy in the agency.

It has been involved in at least two other headline-grabbing scandals ever since.

Back in 2003 and early 2004, a sacked GCHQ translator revealed to British media top-secret information that showed the agency and the United Statesâ„¢ National Security Agency (NSA) were involved in the confidential wire-tapping of United Nationsâ„¢ delegates in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, which was later revealed to have been staged on evidence fabricated by the then British PM Tony Blair and US president George W. Bush.

GCHQ, which is under the scrutiny of the Parliamentâ„¢s Intelligence and Security Committee, also grabbed the headlines last week after former NSA worker Edward Snowden revealed the two agencies spied on foreign leaders during the G20 summit in London in 2009, including the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

AMR/HE

This article originally appeared on: Press TV