24 Jan 2014

Dishfire: who knows what?

An American database which hoovers up as many as 200m text messages a day. The US National Security Agency deletes Americans’ information from the database, but does not do the same for non-US citizens.

GCHQ was given a back door into database. Analysts were told Dishfire “collects pretty much everything it can” and that is was “especially useful for untargeted and unwarranted UK numbers”. So who has said what and which questions still need answers?

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UK law
The main piece of legislation governing intelligence agencies’ access to information is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000.

If an intelligence agency employee wishes to request the content of UK communications from a UK company (a mobile network, for example) he or she must first get a warrant signed by a secretary of state.

If an agency employee wishes to request only the “meta-data” (who contented who, when and where) he or she needs a permission signed by a senior officer.

Mobile networks
Vodafone: “The regime that we are required to comply with is very clear and we will only disclose information to governments where we are legally compelled to do so, won’t go beyond the law and comply with due process. But what you’re describing (in Dishfire) is something that sounds as if that’s been circumvented.”
Three: ”We are seeking clarity from the authorities following the reports of Dishfire activity.”
Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile & Orange): “We were not aware of Dishfire and have asked the relevant authorities for some clarification”
O2: “We will be seeking clarification from GCHQ to understand these allegations further. Like other UK networks we have no visibility of the processes adopted by overseas networks to manage requests from intelligence agencies”


Foreign secretaries
Jack Straw (2001-2006): “Does not comment publicly on such matters”

Margaret Beckett (2006-2007): Yet to respond

David Miliband (2007-2010): Yet to respond

William Hague (2010-present): Told parliament: “”It has been suggested that GCHQ uses our partnership with the United States to get around UK law, obtaining information that they cannot legally obtain in the United Kingdom. I wish to be absolutely clear that this accusation is baseless.”


Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
“On each and every occasion that allegations are made we don’t just take what GCHQ tell us, we go into their files, we look at their raw evidence, we look at their records and we check to see whether the legal requirement to get approval, either from the secretary of state or whatever the law requires depending on what they’re seeking has been complied with.”

Sir Swinton Thomas (2001-2006): “In my time I would take the view that it not open to our intelligence services to obtain or certainly to use communications or data which would not have been lawful in this country.”

Sir Paul Kennedy (2006-2012): Yet to respond

Sir Anthony May (2013-present): Yet to respond

Legal challenges
Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group and English PEN, together with German internet “hacktivist” and academic Constanze Kurz launched a legal challenge to the UK’s internet surveillance activities before the European Court of Human Rights on 4 September 2013. They argue that such unchecked surveillance is a breach of the Right to Privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

UK agencies
GCHQ states: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.

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