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article imageGCHQ admits snooping on Google and social networks of UK citizens

By Kev Hedges     Jun 17, 2014 in Internet
The UK government has said its intelligence service GCHQ can carry out surveillance on UK citizens' use of Facebook, Google web searches, YouTube and Twitter uses without an individual warrant because the social networks are based overseas.
Head of spy operations in the UK, Charles Farr, said in a 48-page document that the services, used everyday by millions of UK internet users, are "external communications" and thus can be intercepted without the need for additional legal clearance.
The mass interception of communications was highlighted by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who claims such surveillance is going on globally. But this is the first time the UK has commented on the matter.
When a UK internet user searches for something on Google or posts on Facebook they are sending information, often to servers based in the United States. This means external communication is taking place allowing spy chiefs to collect information under a broader warrant which doesn't need to be signed of by a minister, Mr Farr explained.
Campaign group Privacy International has been involved in a long-running legal battle with GCHQ, but the spy centre claims all its work "is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that [our] activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate".
However, Privacy International has accused spy chiefs and intelligence agencies in Britain of obfuscation through "secret interpretations of Byzantine laws." Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International, all argue that the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (RIPA) means intelligence agencies and authorities need a specific warrant to snoop on domestic communications, reports the Huffington Post. However, "external communications" do not require those specific warrants.
In the Standard, internet founder Tim Berners-Lee said, "The UK's spy agencies are using flimsy legal justification to sidestep the need for individual warrants", and comic actor, writer and Twitter user Stephen Fry said, "there is something squalid and rancid about being spied on and using people's fears about terrorism as a means to spy on citizens was duplicitous and deeply wrong".
More about mass surveillance, GCHQ snooping, Liberty, facebook privacy, Twitter privacy
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