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Report: U.K. Spy Agency Taps Trans-Atlantic Fiber Optic Cables

Posted: June 21, 2013

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The Guardian newspaper pins the revelation on more documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The paper says the British government collects a vast amount of information in an indiscriminate manner.

The drip-drip of classified information has now moved overseas: Citing more classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, The Guardian newspaper reports that the British spy agency taps into trans-Atlantic fiber optic cables, sucking up vast amounts of data that includes communication sent by Americans and Britons.

The big claim here is that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the equivalent of the NSA, sucks up that information in an indiscriminate manner. The NSA has access to the information.

Here's how The Guardian describes the program:

"The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

"One key innovation has been GCHQ's ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

"GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

"This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user's access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets."

The newspaper quotes an unnamed source with knowledge of the program as saying that while the program collects a lot of information, it does not have the "resources" to look at it.

"If you had the impression we are reading millions of emails, we are not. There is no intention in this whole programme to use it for looking at UK domestic traffic — British people talking to each other," the source told the paper.

Snowden told The Guardian that the GCHQ is "worse than the U.S."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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