GCHQ can now legally track Google, Facebook and web-based email without warrants

By Peter Gothard
18 Jun 2014 View Comments

GCHQ has revealed that it can legally access user data on Facebook, Google and any web-based email service without warrants, simply because the companies are based abroad.

The policy was revealed by Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism [OSCT] at the Home Office, during a legal battle with privacy campaign group Privacy International.

In a 48-page report, now available on Privacy International's website, Farr speaks of "a balance to be found between our individual right to privacy and our collective right to security", for which "an informed and responsible debate is needed".

However, he also classifies Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail and Yahoo as "external communications" which, unlike "internal communications" which stay within the UK, do not need any kind of warrant to be intercepted by the government for any reason it sees fit.

Farr's statement seems to insinuate that any data that leaves the shores of the UK can immediately be set upon by the UK government and used for its own devices, with serious implications for notions of privacy among the populace.

He added, however, that there is a "significant" distinction between information being intercepted, and a human being actually viewing or listening to it.

Privacy International has called the policy "patronising".

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