British Spy Agency: We Don't Need Warrant for Americans' Data. We Have 'Arrangements'

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British Spy Agency: We Don't Need Warrant for Americans' Data. We Have 'Arrangements'

Practices revealed by human rights organizations show how GCHQ gets warrantless access to NSA data

Privacy International's Eric King called the mass surveillance, justified by secret 'arrangements,' completely unacceptable. (Photo: Ervins Strauhmanis/flickr/cc)

British intelligence agencies can access Americans' communications data without a warrant and keep it for two years, newly released documents show.

The British spy agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), revealed the practices, called "arrangements" by the government, to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), a watchdog for national surveillance practices.

Some of the details of of these "arrangements" were provided to human rights organizations including Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International, which had brought a challenge regarding GCHQ's surveillance activities to the IPT following revelations made possible by Edward Snowden.

The policies allow the British agencies to receive bulk data from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) as well as other foreign agencies.

As detailed in a document (pdf) posted by Privacy International, the arrangements appear to serve as legal justification for the practice, stating that it not a circumvention of law when "it is not technically feasible" to get a warrant "and it is necessary and proportionate for the Intelligence Services to obtain those communications."

"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."
—Eric King, Privacy International
The rights groups also note that the GCHQ explanation is at odds with the what the British Intelligence Services Committee stated in July 2013 regarding the NSA's PRISM program, that "in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception... was already in place."

The groups say that the arrangements reveal inadequate legal safeguards and oversight of surveillance practices.

"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 analyzed at will, all without a warrant to collect it in the first place," Eric King, Deputy Director of Privacy international, said in a press statement.

"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. This is completely unacceptable, and makes clear how little transparency and accountability exists within the British intelligence community," he stated.

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