U.K. government 'complicit' in NSA's PRISM spy program

U.K. government 'complicit' in NSA's PRISM spy program

Summary: According to a report, the U.K. government allegedly bypassed international intelligence-sharing treaties by tapping into the NSA's reported PRISM network.

TOPICS: Government UK
GCHQ in Cheltenham (Image: GCHQ via CNET)

The U.K. government may have been complicit in secretly gathering intelligence from Internet companies, which were named on Thursday by a Washington Post report.

According to The Guardian, which has covered the brewing and ever-developing privacy saga extensively, the ability for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) — the U.K. government's electronic intercepts and listening station — to tap directly into the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM database, may bypass mutual intelligence and information sharing treaties.

The London, U.K.-based newspaper obtained documents allegedly confirming the suspicions. In the papers, the NSA included "special programmes for GCHQ exist for focused [PRISM] processing."

The British spy agency generated 197 intelligence reports from Prism in the year through May 2102, the documents state. This is a 137 percent increase in reports year-over-year. Such reports are then passed to the other intelligence agencies, MI5 or SIS (MI6).

The U.S.-led PRISM program allegedly taps into the databases of major technology companies — Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple, and video chat room community PalTalk were named — that allows the NSA to data mine and snoop through vast amounts of citizens' private and sensitive data. 

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed the existence of the program on Thursday night.

He said: "Information collected under this programme is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats."

According to the leaked training documents, these companies were complicit in the acts — though it's not clear if they were legally bound to. 

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others have strenuously denied the claims and reiterated their stance towards maintaining user and customer privacy.

The U.K. government, an ally in intelligence sharing, reportedly tapped into the PRISM system directly, bypassing the requirement to go through "mutual legal assistance" (MLA) requests, in which a state formally asks another government for assistance in a criminal or terrorism case.

MLA requests are sent from the U.K. to the U.S. Justice Department, which are then either turned into subpoenas or search warrants served to companies based in the U.S. In some cases, some companies will comply with a request that hasn't been passed through the courts.

With around 3,000 requests made to Google alone in 2012, the MLA request is costly and time consuming. Using PRISM would allow the U.K. to process requests in bulk extremely quickly. 

A Whitehall source speaking by phone declined to comment off the record. According to The Guardian, GCHQ said it declined to comment on intelligence matters.

Topic: Government UK

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  • GCHQ and the ever evolving picture

    Some will say that snooping on citizens is a necessity to prevent atrocities happening through terrorism. Others will say that it is a total intrusion into the privacy of normal taxpaying people. I mention taxpaying as it is we who pay for all this surveillance ultimately. But whatever, I think that it clearly shows that corporate giants and government are intertwined with each other and work together. This in the interests from a pragmatic point-of-view of vested-interests, economic and financial. Therefore the 'big brother' of 2013 is not just the big brother of '1984', but a combined assault on human liberties due to the workings of corporations and governments, both subversive in their own sweet ways.

    But in my mind the reason for all this snooping is not predominantly down to security issues, but down to the powerful interests to control those who pay all the bills - you and me. Some will say that this will never happen but where I believe that it will. The reason, both big business (according to Forbes a mere 2,000 corporations control 51% of the world's economic turnover) and government’s main objective fundamentally when it comes to the primary objective, is ‘control’, so that both can safeguard their very existence. Indeed, a sterile society where everything is known is in the respective financial and economic interests of big business and government. For in this respect they will be able to control the steady-state and what their ultimate objective is, if truth be told.

    For in time big business and governments will know all our secrets and our leanings. When that time comes in the not too distant future, human rights issues can be torn up and placed in the preverbal bin of history. We are therefore moving ever closer to the real world of '1984' and people had better believe this. Then we will have all sorts of issues to contend with and even people being picked up in the night and never being seen again.

    The question is do we wish to live in such a draconian society? That is a question that incrementally (and before we realise what is ultimately happening), we shall certainly have to ask ourselves.

    For me, it would be a society that provides little in terms of what humanity should be all about. Indeed, a society that is stale, lacking of trust between our fellow man or woman, and a world without the things that are inherently associated with human values and human life itself.

    William Hague and all other politicians who purport that all this exponential centralised surveillance is necessary, had better take on-board the other more sinister side of the coin and balance such a mind-set with what humanity is all about; or what it should be about.

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation
  • Internet Privacy

    The only way to circumvent such laws as the Patriot Act, and preserve our Fourth Amendment Rights when it comes to our individual online privacy is to deal with companies whose servers are not located in the US. To learn more, check out