7th May 2021

UK allowed US to trawl data of Britons

  • US and UK authorities have remained silent over the latest revelations (Photo: luc legay)

The former UK government under Tony Blair granted the US intelligence service, the National Security Agency (NSA), permission to spy on millions of Britons not suspected of any wrongdoing.

A joint investigation by The Guardian and Channel 4 News revealed on Wednesday (20 November) that the electronic dragnet swept up emails, IP addresses, fax and mobile numbers.

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A memo dated from 2007, leaked by former US intelligent agent Edward Snowden, says UK officials secretly agreed to widen the American intelligence gathering trawl by allowing the NSA to store the personal data details of ordinary Britons.

Both nations belong to the so-called “Five Eyes” snooping club of English-speaking nations, which also includes Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

It is said the five agree not to collect, share and probe the details of unsuspecting citizens from each club member. The NSA, had it come across the data of Britons incidentally swept up in a larger probe, would have had to delete it.

However, the memo marks an explicit departure from the seven-decade old Five Eyes agreement.

From 2007 onwards, the NSA and US military is said to have had access to records on any UK citizen collected and stored on a database.

US intelligence agents reportedly used the records for “contact chaining,” which means they attempted to draw connections between the different bits of information.

The agents use a “hop” technique, which entitles them to expand their trawl even further by looking at people, up to three steps removed, from the initial target.

An analysis by The Guardian indicates the three-steps removed technique could ensnare up to 5 million people from a single Facebook account.

Warrants would still be required to listen in on telephone calls or read emails.

A separate top-secret memo dated 2005 says the NSA would have expanded the probes in any case, including citizens from the other Five Eyes members.

The 2005 document further notes that the partner countries in the group must not be informed of the expanded US-led probe on innocent citizens.

The NSA would have conducted its trawls without the consent or knowledge of the countries involved, including the UK government.

The UK’s foreign office said it would not comment on “speculation around intelligence matters."

“If you are a terrorist, a serious criminal, a proliferator, a foreign intelligence target or if your activities pose a genuine threat to the national or economic security of the United Kingdom, there is a possibility that your communications will be monitored,” it noted in a statement.

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