Much outrage and comment was sparked by the news that the US intelligence service, NSA, gathers data and monitors the majority of worldwide internet and telephone communications.

Now, relying on information received by whistle-blower Edward Snowdenthe, the British newspaper, the Guardian, has uncovered a huge privacy scandal of its own involving the British intelligence agency, GCHQ .

© ferkelraggae-Fotolia
© ferkelraggae-Fotolia

Is GCHQ watching you?

According to the Guardian, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) internal papers show that the agency now gathers more data from private communications through its Tempora programme than its US counterpart. Snowden confirmed that the British intelligence agency’s monitoring programme is far bigger than the US’s PRISM.

Over 200 fibre-optic cables tapped by GCHQ

The Guardian reports that GCHQ’s data collection programme has been in operation for over one-and-a-half years and is used to access internet data from over 200 fibre-optic cables. Over 300 GCHQ employees are tasked with monitoring and analysing the data.

The size of the spying programme becomes apparent when considering that around 95% of internet traffic is exchanged via fibre-optic cables. However, the precise scale of the data collection operation remains unclear and the criteria for the selection of communications to be analysed is secret.

Tempora’s opportunities

Tempora gives GCHQ the technical ability to monitor and store vast amounts of data from communications including telephone conversations, emails and Facebook entries. The programme not only allows GCHQ to watch the exchange of internet communication live, but also to store data. In the case of content, data can be stored for three days and in the case of metadata (connection data) data can be stored for up to 30 days.

Due to its prime location at the edge of western Europe, the British intelligence agency was able to attach “intercept probes” to fibre-optic cables emerging on the British coastline from north America.

GCHQ denies spying

Claiming its actions were authorised, necessary and proportionate, GCHQ insisted its actions are legal and that it abides by a strict legal and political framework.

Orwellian Big Brother state

The German government, supported by the opposition, has reacted to the allegations with dismay.

Government spokesperson, Georg Streiter is quoted as saying the German government takes the allegations ‘very seriously’.

Federal Minister for Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, described the allegations as a “Hollywood nightmare” and called for the UK to give an immediate explanation to EU institutions.

Christian Democrat (CDU) fraction leader, Volker Kauder also demanded that the UK government should immediately explain the allegations, adding that if the allegations are true, then GCHQ’s actions are ‘unacceptable’. He asserted that while battling terrorism requires a huge amount of resources, civil and citizens’ rights must be observed.

Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary chief, Thomas Oppermann, compared the alleged GCHQ activities as akin to Orwellian-style surveillance, saying that unlimited access to private data by governments cannot be permitted.