‘GCHQ prostituting itself to the NSA over the last few years’
The British GCHQ intelligence agency turned out to be a bigger player in the snooping game than the US’s NSA. According to recent revelations from Edward Snowden, the UK surveillance program “has no limits” and actively uses illegally collected information. The biggest problem is that UK laws and regulations are not as strict as US ones, which makes GCHQ even less accountable for its illegal activities.
RT: Is this a surprise to you that GCHQ has played such a big role in surveillance?
Annie Machon: Absolutely not. The oversight and regulation of British spies is so light and so unenforced as to be meaningless. And we know from Edward Snowden’s earlier disclosures last year that GCHQ has effectively been prostituting itself to the NSA over the last few years.
Now, why do I say that? Some of his early disclosures were documents that showed that GCHQ has received over $100 million from the NSA, that they were actually putting the needs of the NSA and American interests ahead of protecting British national security, which is their job. And then they’re saying “NSA come and use us and let us do whatever you want because we are much more lightly regulated than you are.” They said that overtly. So they have been selling themselves to the NSA because of the lack of meaningful regulation in the UK. So no surprise there.
RT:GCHQ says it’s operating within the realm of the laws. Does that mean the law is too weak it’s not protecting people?
AM: The laws are very old; they are analogue laws from the 20th Century, and they are very elastic in the way they are applied. For example, if GCHQ wants to intercept communications of British citizens they need to get the prior written permission in a warrant from their political master, the Foreign Secretary. Time and again this hasn’t happened. But that was also 20th century law applied to specific groups and specific targets in order to carry out specific investigations.
However, what we seen from what Snowden has disclosed about things like the Tempora program, what we have is GCHQ mainlining off the transatlantic fiber-optic cables between North America and Europe on the say so of a warrant apparently signed by our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, last year, which is an omnibus warrant, a wide ranging warrant which covers all the communications of 500 million European citizens. Even if this was legal under UK law against British citizens, where on earth does William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary, think he has the authority to investigate and intercept all the communications of all Europe’s citizens? It just doesn’t stack up.
RT:Snowden says GCHQ is collecting anything that might be interesting. How is that going to affect your average man and woman? What sort information is being harvested, and where is it all going?
AM: Everything is being harvested because they say they have to get everything in order to protect the country against this nebulous terrorist threat. The best way of trying to protect against terrorist threats is targeted, specific investigations often using a variety of different sources, not just electronic dragnet surveillance, which is what they are doing at the moment.
However, to put in the context, one of the things that has been revealed is that GCHQ picks up a lot of video Skype conversations. Apparently 10 percent of those are intimate Skype conversation between long-distance partners and they are being counseled about how to deal with seeing these very explicit images. People might say “I am doing nothing wrong I have nothing to hide.” By having a mutual consensual explicit Skype video perhaps with your partner who might be in another country, you’re not doing anything wrong but I am sure you don’t want have that out in public, and I am sure you wouldn’t want the spooks watching it. All sorts of other examples – your health records, your banking records, your relationships, your political affiliations - this is why privacy should be upheld, and it is so important. And if you start to think you are not having any privacy, you start to self-censor and that leads to totalitarianism.
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