Newly released Snowden documents show GCHQ was listening in the internal communications of some of the most prestigious journalistic institutions in the world. A report in The Guardian details a test exercise that resulted in emails from BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Sun, NBC, and The Washington Post all being deposited onto GCHQ's internal intranet, available to anyone logged into the system. It does not appear to have been an intelligence-gathering exercise, and the resulting emails don't seem to have targeted any sensitive stories, but it still represents a major privacy violation and a reminder of how easily bulk collection systems can be abused.
The test was meant to demonstrate a new filtering tool meant to strip out irrelevant data from final results. Over the course of ten minutes, researchers pulled 70,000 emails directly from GCHQ's cable-tapping sites, then ran the experimental filter to see which of those messages could be surfaced as potentially valuable intelligence. Journalistic communications shot to the top of the list, although there's no evidence to suggest the journalists were intentionally targeted. The news comes at a particularly sensitive time, as Prime Minister David Cameron pushes for comprehensive new surveillance laws that could ban encrypted chat or email clients in the UK.