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UK intelligence agency accessed PRISM data legally, rules investigatory committee

UK intelligence agency accessed PRISM data legally, rules investigatory committee


GCHQ cleared of any wrongdoing

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The UK Intelligence and Security Committee today cleared the country's GCHQ security service of allegations of illegal activity related to the NSA's PRISM program. Following an investigation into the allegations, the committee concluded that the suggestion security services broke UK law by using "the NSA’s PRISM program to access the content of private communications" was "unfounded."

According to a statement released by the committee, "in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place," in accordance with UK law. The statement also shows the UK's definition of what PRISM is, and how it is used. A section titled "What is PRISM?" explains:

PRISM is a programme through which the US Government obtains intelligence material (such as communications) from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The US administration has stated that the programme is regulated under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and applications for access to material through PRISM have to be approved by the FISA Court, which is comprised of 11 senior judges. Access under PRISM is specific and targeted (not a broad ‘data mining’ capability, as has been alleged).

Stories in the media have asserted that GCHQ had access to PRISM and thereby to the content of communications in the UK without proper authorisation. It is argued that, in so doing, GCHQ circumvented UK law. This is a matter of very serious concern: if true, it would constitute a serious violation of the rights of UK citizens.

As already stated, the investigation found that GCHQ did not circumvent UK law, or violate the legal rights of UK citizens. The committee explains that it had complete access to a number of GCHQ resources, including:

  • A list of counter-terrorist operations for which GCHQ was able to obtain intelligence from the US in any relevant area.
  • A list of all the individuals who were subject to monitoring via such arrangements who were either believed to be in the UK or were identified as UK nationals.
  • A list of every ‘selector’ (such as an email address) for these individuals on which the intelligence was requested.
  • A list of the warrants and internal authorizations that were in place for each of these individual being targeted.

The investigators also visited the NSA and their "congressional counterparts" during the investigation, and say they questioned the GCHQ director in detail. Although it found no wrongdoing, the committee will now consider whether the laws currently in place are adequate enough to protect private communications. There is no timeframe for this additonal investigation. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague unsurprisingly welcomed the committee's findings. "I see daily evidence of the integrity and high standards of the men and women of GCHQ," said Hague, "the ISC’s findings are further testament to their professionalism and values."