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UK has had access to US's secret data for three years - report

The Guardian says Britain’s GCHQ surveillance agency has been able to access data harvested by the US’s ‘PRISM’ system.

The headquarters of GCHQ, Britain's electronic surveillance agency, pictured shortly after construction in 2004.
The headquarters of GCHQ, Britain's electronic surveillance agency, pictured shortly after construction in 2004.
Image: Barry Batchelor/PA Archive

THE UNITED KINGDOM’S national surveillance agency has had ‘back door’ access to data harvested by the United States’ intelligence agency, according to a new report.

The Guardian says that GCHQ, Britain’s national electronic surveillance and security body, has access to the US’s PRISM network which was yesterday exposed as having access to data collected by companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Google and Apple.

PRISM, run by the US’s National Security Agency, has the legal right under US law to scrape data relating to any US user of any of the online services mentioned, and any communication they may have with other US users.

However, it was not known before now that its British counterpart had direct access to the information accrued by the US – allowing it to bypass the British legal constraints requiring court approval for records to be collected.

Ordinarily GCHQ can ask the US Department of Defence to apply, on its behalf, for court orders to ask technology companies like Google or Facebook for access to their data about named individuals.

Though this process is still regularly observed, it can be ably circumvented if GCHQ already has access to the PRISM system, which can accrue the data on an enormous basis without any need for judicial oversight.

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Documentation obtained by the Guardian further suggests that the data is also available to similar agencies in other countries.

GCHQ accrued 197 intelligence reports from the PRISM data between June 2011 and May 2012, an increase of 83 on the previous year.

PRISM was set up by the George W Bush administration in 2007 to survey online and electronic communications for anti-terrorism purposes, with its mandate updated by Barack Obama last December, a month after his re-election as president.

Read: Google, Facebook, Skype, YouTube also tapped by US government

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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