BT and Vodafone hand over customers’ data to GHCQ

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

November 4, 2013

Another day and another shocking revelation that large tech companies we’ve trusted for years have been betraying their customers, and handing their details on a plate to secretive spying organisations determined to spy on everyone’s every communication.

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This time its six tech companies including BT, Vodafone, and US company Verizon who have been handing details of their UK customers’ phone calls, email messages and Facebook entries to British security agency GHCQ. These companies (together with less well-known companies Global Crossing, Level 3, and Viatel) are responsible for giving GHCQ access to their undersea fiber-optic cables, which provide the backbone to much of the world’s phone and internet traffic.

Although the GHCQ Tempora program has been known about since the first days of whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations of ubiquitous mass surveillance by the NSA and GHCQ (and is becoming increasingly obvious, other security organisations across the world), details of its telecoms company partners, which were considered to be a top secret, were only revealed by Snowden on Friday.

In fairness to the companies involved, ‘a source with knowledge of intelligence’ told the Guardian newspaper in June that ‘the companies had no choice but to co-operate in this operation. They are forbidden from revealing the existence of warrants compelling them to allow GCHQ access to the cables.’ However this is unlikely to appease customers of the companies, who have had all their private emails and data passed onto the secretive spy agency, and the UK government is reportedly very concerned about a backlash.

Further, the problem does not stop at these companies, as it seems, from documents shown to the Guardian, that these companies gave GHCQ access to ‘cables which they did not themselves own or operate, but only operated a landing station for’, meaning that customers of other telecoms companies may have had their private communications compromised as well.

GHCQ has of course been keen to downplay the Tempora revelations, saying that it has neither the desire nor the resources to spy on every detail of domestic traffic, and that it is only interested in data relating to security, terror, organised crime and Britain’s economic wellbeing. If this is the case however, why do leaked GHCQ document repeatedly talk about plans to expand its blanket surveillance capabilities?

Of course, as a VPN review site we feel duty-bound to point out that by using a VPN to encrypt your internet connection you can achieve a high degree of privacy, even from the like of GHCQ (at least with your internet traffic- phone traffic is pretty much open game to whoever wants to listen in and there is little you can do about it except switch to encrypted VoIP and IM…)

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