Britain’s NSA Is Listening to Your Phone Calls

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Yesterday, the Guardian revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s version of the NSA, has been running a program called Tempora that taps fiber optic cables coming into the country. GCHQ claims that Tempora gathers more metadata than any NSA program, and provides access to 600 million “telephone events” each day:

The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: “We have a light oversight regime compared with the US”. When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was “your call”.

….”The criteria are security, terror, organised crime. And economic well-being.”….The categories of material have included fraud, drug trafficking and terrorism, but the criteria at any one time are secret and are not subject to any public debate….An indication of how broad the dragnet can be was laid bare in advice from GCHQ’s lawyers, who said it would be impossible to list the total number of people targeted because “this would be an infinite list which we couldn’t manage”.

As far as I know, it’s still an open question whether NSA does the same thing with fiber optic cables that make landfall in the U.S. Obviously NSA would like to. The fact that we dedicate an entire submarine to tapping underseas cables makes this pretty obvious. But I don’t think anyone has ever produced any firm documentary evidence one way or the other.

I’m busy with other work today, so I don’t have time to write anything lengthy about this. But I missed posting about it yesterday, so I wanted to make sure to get to it today.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate