What ‘GCHQ’ stands for in Britain?

Britainâ„¢s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is a spy agency dedicated to intelligence and information gathering. It’s the UK equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States.

Based on a programme called Å“Tempora”, as revealed in a report by The Guardian on June 21, GCHQ had placed data interceptors on fibre-optic cables that carry internet data in and out of the UK.

According to the report these UK-based fibre optic cables include transatlantic cables that carry internet traffic between the US and Europe, meaning that GCHQ is able to directly access large amounts of global internet data.

Interceptors have been placed on around 200 fibre optic cables where they come ashore. This appears to have been done with the secret cooperation, voluntary or forced, of the companies that operate the cables, potentially giving GCHQ access to 10 gigabits of data a second, or 21 petabytes a day.

Around 300 GCHQ and 250 NSA operatives are tasked with sifting through the data, which can be stored for up to three and 30 days for content and meta content respectively.

The UK and US intelligence agencies co-operate in order to bypass domestic restrictions on intelligence gathering, which means the NSA isn’t bound by UK restrictions on surveillance of UK citizens and GCHQ isn’t bound by US restrictions on surveillance of US citizens.

Tempora was first trialled in 2008 and by the summer of 2011 GCHQ had placed interceptors on over 200 fibre optic cables. By late 2011, the Tempora programme had been fully launched and shared with the Americans on a three-month trial basis. The Americans, on their best behaviour, suitably impressed GCHQ and passed the test, reported the Guardian.

Under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), defined targets can be tapped if there’s a signed warrant. The warrant must be signed by the Home or Foreign Secretary. However, paragraph four of section eight of Ripa allows the Foreign Secretary to issue a certificate for broad interception of categories of material relating to terrorism or organised crime, for example. It appears that GCHQ is using that clause to justify the broad interception of web traffic.

GCHQ claims that its operatives behave within the law, including the Human Rights Act, which says that searches must be necessary and proportionate, meaning that there must be cause for looking at the data.

Todayâ„¢s GCHQ is the product of over a century of organic development. Modern Signals Intelligence (Sigint) began in two small organisations at the start of the First World War and has evolved into an integrated intelligence and security organisation.

Under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, GCHQ became an autonomous department on its own statutory footing, with ministerial responsibility belonging to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Documents leaked by former CIA worker Edward Snowden suggested that the UK data-gathering centre GCHQ operates the clandestine security electronic surveillance program Å“Tempora”, and has had access to the US internet monitoring programme Å“Prism” since at least June 2010.

Prism is said to give the National Security Agency and FBI easy access to the systems of nine of the world’s top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.


Republished with permission from:: Press TV