Britain’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal a secret government policy justifying the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google user in the UK, a group of rights organizations announced today.
The organizations published the policy, described in a written statement by Charles Farr, Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, after they brought a legal challenge against the UK government.
The document reveals that UK intelligence agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept web searches by British residents or communications between British residents.
“British citizens will be alarmed to see their government justifying industrial-scale intrusion into their communications,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Law and Policy.
“The public should demand an end to this wholesale violation of their right to privacy.”
The government’s approach, which had to date not been made explicitly clear, defines almost all communications via Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as all web searches via Google, to be “external communications” because they use web-based “platforms” based in the USA.
The distinction between “internal” and “external” communications is crucial. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which regulates the surveillance powers of public bodies, “internal” communications may only be intercepted under a specific warrant.