‘Karma Police’: Illegal GCHQ operation to track ‘every visible user on the internet’
The mission was started in 2009, without the agency obtaining legal permission to carry out the operation. Also there was no Parliamentary consultation or public scrutiny, documents published by the Intercept website show.
GCHQ - Government Communications Headquarters – is a UK spy agency responsible for providing intelligence by intercepting communications between people or equipment. The data is handed over to the British government and armed forces.
The recently revealed operation was developed by GCHQ in 2007-08. It aimed to link "every user visible to passive SIGINT with every website they visit, hence providing either (a) a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet, or (b) a user profile for every visible website on the internet."
The numbers of surveyed users were astonishing: in 2012, GCHQ gathered some 50 billion online metadata records a day, and the agency planned to boost its capacity to 100 billion records a day by the end of this year.
The information was held for months in a vast store nicknamed the Black Hole and was carefully examined by data analysts.
GCHQ also used software codenamed ‘Blazing Saddles’ to survey listeners of "any one particular radio station ... to understand any trends or behaviors."
The report details the program was reportedly aiming to “look for potential covert communications channels for hostile intelligence agencies running agents in allied countries, terrorist cells, or serious crime targets.”
However, the program didn’t just target terror suspects: one user was surveyed and found to have visited the Redtube porn site, some social media and a few Arabic and Islamic commercial enterprises.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International organization, tweeted his concern following the publication of the documents.
Despite former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaking his NSA files in 2013, revelations about the US and UK spying programs still appear regularly. In June, it was disclosed that a secretive GCHQ unit assists traditional law enforcement with domestic spying and online propaganda.
The unit reportedly manipulates public opinion based on scientific and psychological analyses.
Two years ago, the Snowden scandal forced the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to explain their actions at an unprecedented public hearing.