Did you know that the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand participate together in an electronic eavesdropping cooperative called "The Five Eyes Alliance"? Or that Britain "has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency"? That's big news, right!
It's also four days old. Maybe some of you caught it, but you know what: The surveillance news is coming so fast these days that it's nearly impossible to process it all. One day, the scandal is that big Internet companies secretly share data with the U.S. government. A few more days pass, and then this drops:
One key innovation has been GCHQ's ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months. GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects. This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user's access to websites - all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.
By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data. The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US". When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was "your call".
What this portends is terrifying.