The UK electronic spy agency GCHQ intercepts communications of Britons who use US-based websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, rights groups say.
Britain’s top counterterrorism official Charles Farr said the country’s espionage rules classed those services as “external” rather than “internal” communications because the companies are based outside Britain, government documents released on Tuesday confirmed.
Google searches, Facebook and Twitter posts between two people living in Britain that went to data centers outside the British Isles would fall under the external category. The GCHQ are given broad powers to intercept communications outside the country, Farr noted.
Britain’s Home Office established the document was genuine, which was released in a legal action prompted by civil liberty organizations who are seeking to curb cyber-spying.
Civil liberties groups say government rules are too vague and allow for mass surveillance.
“The security services consider that they’re entitled to read, listen and analyze all our communications on Facebook, Google and other U.S.-based platforms…If there was any remaining doubt that our snooping laws need a radical overhaul there can be no longer,” said James Welch, legal director of Liberty — one of the groups involved in the legal action.
Classified documents leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden in June last year revealed that the GCHQ was secretly accessing the network of cables that carry the world’s phone calls and Internet traffic and had been sharing the data with the US National Security Agency (NSA).
In October 2013, civil liberties campaigners launched legal action against the GCHQ over the alleged violation of the privacy of millions of people across the UK and Europe via online surveillance.