British spies can help themselves to data collected by the NSA from the telephone calls and Internet communications of Americans without a warrant, a new court document shows.
The agreement between the NSA and its British equivalent, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) means that American citizen’s data can be seen and stored by the United States’ closest ally without a warrant when that is ‘not technically feasible’.
Anything discovered in the data, once obtained, can be kept by the British for up to two years and specifically relates to ‘unselected’ or raw data.
But, this deadline can be extended unilaterally by ‘senior UK officials’ if they believe it to be necessary for national security purposes.
The revelation that a foreign nation, even a friendly one, can have unfettered access to American’s private communications was revealed during a legal challenge to GCHQ in the UK by civil liberties groups.
It is a well known fact that the NSA and GCHQ along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, share intelligence data with one another.
However, this is the first time the British government has admitted it does not need to go through legal hoops to access data mined by its American counterparts claims the National Journal.
GCHQ was forced to draw back the veil on some of their top secret policies during a legal challenge to their practices following whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA last year.
Amongst the legal challengers were Amnesty International and the British civil rights advocates, Liberty.
‘We now know that data from any call, internet search, or website you visited over the past two years could be stored in GCHQ’s database and analysed at will, all without a warrant to collect it in the first place,’ said Privacy International deputy director Eric King to the Guardian.
‘It is outrageous that the government thinks mass surveillance, justified by secret “arrangements” that allow for vast and unrestrained receipt and analysis of foreign intelligence material is lawful.’
Generally, the UK’s intelligence gathering and data sharing is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which generally demands a warrant for private data interception.
However, the legal challenge has exposed the fact that the British and GCHQ do not deem a warrant necessary every time.
‘A Ripa interception warrant is not as a matter of law required in all cases in which unanalyzed intercepted communications might be sought from a foreign government,’ states the document made public and sent by GCHQ to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which is the British intelligence watchdog.
Following the revelations of U.S. intelligence worker Edward Snowden, GCHQ has been on the defensive over how it shares data with American spies.
British lawmakers briefed by the agency have assured the public that a warrant was in place “in each case where GCHQ sought information from the U.S.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”