The Guardian is reporting that GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of our NSA, is collecting information on British citizens without a warrant, despite earlier assurances from the GCHQ that it required a warrant to collect information provided by the NSA or other non-Britain spy agencies.
The government’s submission discloses that the UK can obtain “unselected” – meaning unanalysed, or raw intelligence – information from overseas partners without a warrant if it was “not technically feasible” to obtain the communications under a warrant and if it is “necessary and proportionate” for the intelligence agencies to obtain that information.
The rules essentially permit bulk collection of material, which can include communications of UK citizens, provided the request does not amount to “deliberate circumvention” of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs much of the UK’s surveillance activities.
This point – that GCHQ does not regard warrants as necessary in all cases – is explicitly spelled out in the document. “[A] Ripa interception warrant is not as a matter of law required in all cases in which unanalysed intercepted communications might be sought from a foreign government,” it states. The rules also cover communicationsdata sent unsolicited to the UK agencies.
Campaigners say that this contrasts with assurances by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee in July last year that a warrant signed by a minister was in place whenever GCHQ obtained intelligence from the US.
So we now know of at least two surveillance state operations that function without normal privacy guarantees: GCHQ and NSA.