The Draft Communications Bill was heralded by the government as a way to protect us from terrorism by recording certain data from all telecommunications and internet traffic.
Documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper prove that GCHQ in collusion with the United States NSA are already monitoring the information the Snooper’s Charter is designed to legally permit.
An operation (codenamed Tempora) has been in operation for 18 months and is able to tap into 200 fibre optic cables and store the data for up to 30 days. The data includes telephone calls, emails, Facebook, and the use of the internet by any user.
The documents were given to the Guardian by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden to expose what he describes as “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”. Snowden told the Guardian that the GCHQ operation is ‘worse than the US’, having a less restrictive and regulated environment to operate in.
The capability of GCHQ to collect and monitor data is far bigger than the Prism system that Snowden exposed recently, and makes GCHQ an intelligence superpower with its capacity to collect and monitor data continually expanding.
A special arrangement was made with the NSA so they could access the data and databases of Operation Tempora. According to the Guardian, 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors have access to the GCHQ data. Secret agreements were made with what the documents describe as ‘intercept partners’, commercial companies involved in the analysis of data.
The commercial companies are compelled to cooperate with the security services though the power of secret warrants. A source told the Guardian “There’s an overarching condition of the licensing of the companies that they have to co-operate in this. Should they decline, we can compel them to do so. They have no choice.”
The legality of the operation is questionable. GCHQ was given the go ahead for Operation Tempora using old law and applying it to modern technology.
The Regulation of Investigatory Power Act 2000 (RIPA) states that any tapping of targets must be authorised by a warrant issued by the Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary.
Within the legislation is a clause that allows the Foreign Secretary to sign a certificate to allow the security services to intercept a wide range of material categories provided that one end of the communication is located abroad. Much of the UK internet traffic is routed abroad, which allows for interception under RIPA.
If the ‘Snoopers Charter’ were to become law, it would legalise Operation Tempora activities, which may explain one of the reasons the government are so keen to get the legislation passed in parliament.