Today The Guardian reported that the GCHQ, Britain’s NSA equivalent, worked with several foreign governments to help them tap Internet traffic and phone communications. The Swedish, French, Spanish, and German governments are said to be involved.
It has been known for some time that the United States and British governments, through a number of programs such as the UK’s Tempora effort, directly tap the fiber-optic cables that are the backbone of the Internet, collecting data in massive quantity.
That four other countries do the same is, therefore, not surprising, but it is dispiriting. It will be far harder than we initially perhaps hoped to end this sort of mass surveillance. That the GCHQ was willing to provide what is described as “a leading role in advising its European counterparts” in how to get around legal restrictions is simply depressing.
The NSA acts in a similar fashion. After it was banned from collecting data sent in between data centers of private companies on the country’s soil, it started doing so overseas. Problem? Solved. Presumably the GCHQ, close cousin and partner in crime to the NSA, is teaching similar methods.
Previously, James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, joked that furor over news of NSA’s spying on the phone of the German Chancellor was asinine: “Some of this reminds me a lot of the classic movie ‘Casablanca’: ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here!'” Clapper is correct, it appears.
The losers here are the regular folks who are having their Internet traffic and telephony data absorbed by more than just their own governments, but by apparently a cadre of nations working in concert to ensure that digital privacy is kaput. The GCHQ is zealous in its will to help allies get around their own law. The Guardian’s quote about Holland is downright depressing:
“The Dutch have some legislative issues that they need to work through before their legal environment would allow them to operate in the way that GCHQ does. We are providing legal advice on how we have tackled some of these issues to Dutch lawyers.”
Frankly, I think that at this point it is reasonable to state that wholesale monitoring of the raw data that flows through the trunk cables of the web will not stop. The only solution is some sort of new encryption technique that is unhackable – though the NSA is working on ending that protection as well.
It is an incredible shame that it has come to this, and that nations find it impossible to keep their hands to themselves.
Top Image Credit: Flickr