Report: British government views NSA data without warrant

The British government can obtain unanalyzed, bulk data collected by foreign intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency,  without a warrant, British authorities acknowledged.

The clandestine “agreements” between the British intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and other governments came out in documents filed in response to a legal challenge from human rights advocates.


The three groups — Privacy International, Liberty, and Amnesty International — are challenging the legality of British surveillance programs in the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“We now know that data from any call, Internet search, or website you visited over the past two years could be stored in GCHQ's database and analyzed at will, all without a warrant to collect it in the first place,” said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International.

Privacy International said the revelations late Tuesday potentially contradict previous government assurances.

“In each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place,” the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament said in a statement following discovery of the U.S. PRISM program, which allowed the NSA to collect Internet communications and traffic data from service providers.

While the statement covers instances when GCHQ directly asks for certain information, it does not address the safeguards for bulk data it receives unsolicited from the NSA.

“Leaving aside whether secret safeguards can ever be adequate, this reluctantly-made disclosure suggests otherwise,” said James Welch, the legal director for Liberty.

Britain also has its own program, Tempora, which taps into fiber-optic cables to scrape up 30 days worth of online and telephone traffic. The NSA reportedly has access to that data as well.

The details were exposed in documents leaked by Snowden last year. At the time, Snowden said GCHQ was “worse than the U.S.”

A representative for the NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.