Current Affairs Internet Technology

You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All

English: GCHQ from just East of Cheltenham
GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), Britain’s surveillance centre, Cheltenham, Britain.

You’re not paranoid. They really are out to get you! 🙂

From the Independent newspaper:

“Cloud computing has exploded in recent years as a flexible, cheap way for individuals, companies and government bodies to remotely store documents and data. According to some estimates, 35 per cent of UK firms use some sort of cloud system – with Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Amazon Cloud Drive the major players.

But it has now emerged that all documents uploaded onto cloud systems based in the US or falling under Washington’s jurisdiction can be accessed and analysed without a warrant by American security agencies.

Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, allow US government agencies open access to any electronic information stored by non-American citizens by US-based companies. Quietly introduced during the dying days of President George W Bush’s administration in 2008, the amendments were renewed over Christmas 2012.

Significantly, bodies such as the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA can gain access to any information that potentially concerns US foreign policy for purely political reasons – with no need for any suspicion that national security is at stake – meaning that religious groups, campaigning organisations and journalists could be targeted.

The information can be intercepted and stored in bulk as it enters the US via undersea cables crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said: “US surveillance ambitions know no bounds. The chilling US Foreign Intelligence Service Act treats all non-US citizens as enemy suspects.”

Last night a Google spokesperson said: “It is possible for the US government (and European governments) to access certain types of data via their law enforcement agencies. We think this kind of access to data merits serious discussion and more transparency.”

Amazon and Apple were yet to comment last night.”

Of course in Ireland we’re well used to this sort of thing. From an article in the Observer newspaper, July 1999:

“The Irish government yesterday demanded an explanation from Britain over GCHQ’s secret operation to eavesdrop on communications to and from the Republic using a 150ft tower in Cheshire.

David Andrews, the Irish foreign minister, acted following reports that over the past 10 years, the tower had intercepted Irish international communications as they passed across Britain.

The tower, built at a cost of pounds 20m, is on British Nuclear Fuels land at Capenhurst, between two BT microwave towers carrying international telephone traffic.

The intercepts were passed to GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, for further processing.

Telephone communications were carried through a cable under the Irish Sea between Dublin and Anglesey and then through a BT microwave radio link where they were picked up by the Capenhurst tower.

The MoD is now selling the tower – a new Irish telecommunications system has replaced the radio traffic which the tower used to pick up. But GCHQ is likely to find new ways to receive communications, from land lines and satellites.”

You better believe it! You can read some more about this period of British communication intercepts in Ireland over on Cryptome with some up-to-date stuff from the former British Security Service or MI5 officer Annie Machon here. Of course Irish Republicans are quite good at this stuff too (as the northern prison service and Gardaí recently discovered) albeit with off-the-shelf technology. Though the prize for ingenuity must surely go to An Garda Síochána who in the 1990s purchased their secure communications and counter-surveillance equipment from… the British. Well done, a bhuachaillí!

For the rest of us you could start by using Pretty Good Privacy. But that is just the start.

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