Data covertly collected by the US National Security Agency (NSA) from American telecom and Internet firms has been shared with its British counterpart, media reports revealed.
Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been
given information gathered in the US-run PRISM system, which grants the American spy
agency a direct line to data stored on the servers of Google,
Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and five other tech giants.
Documents obtained by the Guardian revealed that the GCHQ has had
access to PRISM since at least June 2010, having generated 197
intelligence reports from it last year. Access to the information
has allowed the British electronic eavesdropping and security
agency to bypass the formal legal process required to obtain such
information from a non-UK-based company.
Throughout PRISM’s seven-year existence, operatives at the NSA
and FBI have collected email, video and voice chat, videos,
photos, voice-over-IP (Skype) chats, file transfers and social
networking details, with the ostensible purpose of thwarting
In a statement to the Guardian, the GCHQ insisted it “takes
its obligations under the law very seriously.” Apple, Google,
Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook have all publically disavowed
knowledge of PRISM or any cooperation with the program.
The GCHQ was further provided access to so-called “telephony
metadata” culled from the telephone records of millions of US customers of
Verizon — one of the largest telecommunication companies in
the United States — current and former US intelligence officials
familiar with the operation told the Daily Beast.
Intelligence sources revealed that in a few cases, the NSA had
shared unedited analysis of the metadata with the GCHQ. However,
British nationals were reportedly not allowed to sit at the
physical terminals where NSA analysts mined metadata.
“My understanding is if the British had a phone number, we
might run the number through the database for them and provide
them with the results,” said one former senior US
intelligence official with knowledge of the program.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court granted both
the NSA and the FBI unfettered access to the metadata from April
25 to July 19 of this year. This data does not reveal the actual
content of the telephone conversations or the names of the
participants on either line, though the numbers dialed — as well
as the time and duration of the calls — are included.
Late Thursday, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence
in the US, decried the leaks on the programs as
“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this
important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks
important protections for the security of Americans,” he
Clapper further said that media reports surrounding the programs
were rife with inaccuracies, adding that the collection of
communications is allowed under Section 702 of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Since 1946, the US and the UK have been party to the United
Kingdom-United States of America Agreement, which facilitates the
sharing of signals intelligence between the two nations. The
agreement was later expanded to include the commonwealth states
of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
This article originally appeared on: RT