Newly released Snowden documents reveal that the British government has been running a secret web surveillance program far more intrusive than anything the NSA could imagine.
According to The Intercept, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) launched a program in 2007 that pulls web data from intercontinental data cables designed to map every single user on the internet.
The program, named “Karma Police” in an apparent nod to the rock band Radiohead, is said to be able to capture information from at least a quarter of the worlds web traffic.
According to the documents, the data contains full records of sites visited, usernames, and even passwords.
Unlike equivalent NSA programs, which require FISA court approval of specific queries to the database, there appears to be no meaningful judicial oversight of Karma Police, giving the GCHQ free-reign in obtaining data.
In one example of the program in action, the agency targeted any internet radio station broadcasting spoken recitations from the Quran and then used the “Karma Police” database to track down more information on the station’s listeners.
By exploiting tracking cookie networks, the program was able to find other accounts held by the listeners on Skype, Yahoo, and Facebook, enabling even broader tracking.
A report prepared for high-ranking intelligence officials shows agents building up profiles of web users, making links between the radio stations they listen to, their news sources, and the countries with which they can communicate.
The documents say the purpose of “Karma Police” is to map “every user visible to passive SIGINT [signals intelligence] with every website they visit,” and suggest that the program could be combined with “a wealth of data-mining techniques” to uncover terrorists, organized crime rings, and enemy agents.
A GCHQ spokesman declined to comment on the program, but insisted the agency’s activities are strictly monitored despite the program being put into action with no explicit approval from Parliament or input from the public.
“All of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework,” the spokesperson said. “The UK’s interception regime is entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.”