GCHQ Prism spying claims: Agency to report 'shortly'


Gordon Corera reports: "Tapping into the huge flows of internet data has become a top priority"

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Eavesdropping centre GCHQ will report to MPs within days over claims it secretly gathered intelligence from the world's largest internet companies.

The Guardian claims the UK's listening post accessed data on the internet activity of Britons obtained by a US spying programme called Prism.

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee Committee (ISC) expects the report by Monday.

GCHQ said in a statement it operated to "a strict legal and policy framework".

US spies have been accused of tapping into servers of nine US internet giants including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google in a giant anti-terror sweep. All deny giving government agents access to servers.

The Guardian says it has obtained documents showing that Britain's secret listening post had access to the Prism system, set up by America's National Security Agency (NSA), since at least June 2010.

The newspaper said the Prism programme appeared to allow the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to circumvent the formal legal process required to obtain personal material, such as emails, photographs and videos, from internet companies based outside the UK.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in London for a Hyde Park rally calling for action to end hunger, said he knew nothing about Prism, adding: "I don't know any specifics but if there's a court order for companies to do things it's typical that they're obeyed."

Washington visit

ISC chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind said the parliamentary committee would be "receiving a full report from GCHQ very shortly and will decide what further action needs to be taken as soon as it receives that information".

Douglas Alexander: "These latest reports over the last 48 hours have raised very real public concerns"

Committee members will discuss the claims with US security officials during a planned visit to Washington next week.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has urged the foreign secretary - the minister with responsibility for GCHQ - to make a statement to Parliament on the reports.

He told the BBC: "I am calling on William Hague, as the foreign secretary, to come to the dispatch box of the House of Commons on Monday to set out the government's position and explain how the government will work with the ISC to address the very real public concerns that have emerged."

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the UK already had the ability to request information from internet and other companies through court orders and warrants.

"The question about Prism is whether it is simply an interface with the companies to then get hold of that information, or a kind of dragnet to gather vast amounts of information about everyone to sift through," our correspondent said.

He added: "Even more worryingly, was it a means of evading the legal oversight and legal restriction on how they operated?"

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said ministers were "going to have to say whether they knew about this and what they have and haven't authorised".

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty: "[Spies] have to be accountable to Parliament and the law"

She told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme the big question was "have our agencies been circumventing the law by this nice little international exchange"?

She added: "The danger with this and other security policies is that governments say, 'well we'll obey our own laws that protect our citizens but we will then play fast and loose with the freedoms of others on the other side of the Atlantic or wherever'."

Former Labour MP Kim Howells, who chaired the ISC from 2008-2010, told Today he did not believe "for one minute" that intelligence service chiefs would be prepared to "venture into areas that are clearly illegal without, if you like, the permission of the government".

'Deeply concerning'

Conservative MP David Davis said the claims indicated the intelligence services had "much more information than they used to haveā€¦ namely our most intimate traffic".

That could include "a love email sent to your wife or mistress or girlfriend", he added.

Start Quote

Privacy is effectively a 20th century concept like the steam engine”

End Quote Richard Aldrich International security professor

"That sort of thing's now available through a mechanism which doesn't go through the British courts and that's pretty serious."

US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has defended the Prism monitoring programme, saying it was closely overseen by Congress and the courts and that his administration had struck "the right balance" between security and privacy.

Richard Aldrich, a professor of international security at the University of Warwick, said he expected Mr Cameron to say "rather as President Obama has said, that you can't have your cake and eat it - you can't have 100% privacy and 100% security".

"What they're not going to say is, actually, we're very rapidly accelerating to a point where we're going to be in a transparent society," he told Today.

"Privacy is effectively a 20th century concept like the steam engine."

A spokesman for the agency, based in Cheltenham, said: "Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Intelligence and Security Committee."

Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that Twitter was invited to join the Prism programme last year, but rejected the approach from US authorities.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Governments don't have the right to listen to what we as private individuals do and say. We give them the power to do this in certain circumstances for our security. Beyond those bounds they should not go. Where they use their powers to check on those who might be dangerous that is fine, where they use their powers to check on who they feel like, that is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Why does it surprise anybody what these departments get up to.They are a law to theirselves and do what they like with out any repercussions to senior people in the system.This goverment wanted something similar for the police so don't be surprised what the secret departments get up to.The Yanks don't do this to their people yet our goverment is happy to allow it here.Two faced Yanks again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    President Obama says no one is listening to your calls [they are only gather data about those calls] - well I hope they listen when I order a pizza later otherwise my order will be wrong!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    What government agencies say is often irrelevant and deliberately misleading; "They have weapons of mass destruction".

    Give them an inch and they take a mile.

    The time you need a sword the most is just after you put it down (having used it)..

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    What worries me is the constant affirmation that US citizens and those inside the U.S are not being monitored - what about the rest of us then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It is pure hypocracy for this government to complain about corporates using legal "loop holes" to circumvent paying taxes while same governments use "loop holes" to spy upon own citizens & undermine the very basis of democracy.

    "Lest we forget" that the fight to maintain democracy & freedoms is ongoing, with UK governments undermining democracy/freedom on the pretext of fighting extremism

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Do you still believe you live in a democracy?

    This is not the thin edge of the wedge, this is the wedge!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Don't panic - it's not us they're after: we're not interesting enough. But I think if I were an opposition MP I'd be getting worried by now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    "...accessed data on the internet activity of Britons obtained by a US spying programme..."

    Ah, the 'Special Relationship'

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Funnily enough, Theresa May wants us to have a system even more invasive than Prism with the communications bill.

    Our only real hope is that we stay in the EU, who are very pro-privacy and will make this kind of spying illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Wake up everyone. Be glad that our intelligence guys are working. If you've nothing to hide, you've NOTHING to fear. Get real -- CCTV has helped solved countless crimes but we hear continuous groans about them from the 'freedom' crowd. I want a camera on every lampost so there is a crime deterrent. Slimeballs walk the streets but the public can't spot 'em. As for our kids, I hope they stay safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    'Eavesdropping centre GCHQ will report to MPs that it has been eavesdropping.' And in other news,
    Pope admits to his bishops that he is a catholic.
    Bear admits to defecating in woods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Can we finally stop the sycophantic lovving up to Obama. Scandals concerning Benghazi, misuse of the IRS, EPA and DoJ against his political opponents, his contempt for free press and now this just shows Obama is a disgrace and not fit to run any nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Our liberal democracy requires that the people be able to overthrow the government every so often. How is this possible if the government consider private communications fair game for surveilling?

    This all started in June 2010. How about that Lib Dems? It took you less than a month to seriously imperil liberal democracy! Excellent security policy. (Up to this point I've only ever voted Lib Dem)

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Report due.

    'They' tell us only what 'the' want us to know - and no more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    So the NSA is allowed to gather information in other countries (eg UK), and GCHQ is allowed to gather information in other countries (eg USA). Would anyone like to take a wild guess as to what happens to these two sets of data then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Have the idle hacks who pass for journalists these days never even heard of "Echelon"? It won't take much effort. You no longer have to read an EC Report: you can find the starting point (and no doubt for most of them, the end point too) all nicely packaged on Wikipedia ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    They're listening to everything we do and say
    So here's a message they can take away
    We don't like anger and we don't need hate
    With bloody war everywhere, sabotage the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    " Prism programme appeared to allow the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to circumvent the formal legal process required to obtain personal material, such as emails, photographs & videos, from internet companies based outside the UK."

    Is GCHQ accountable to MI5 /MI6?
    Or is it accountable to the FBI and CIA?

    Perhaps Britains should vote Republican or Democrat come the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    It's free and it ......
    won't be long before we're not!


Page 38 of 39


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