‘Britain’s electronic surveillance agency, Government Communications Headquarters, has long presented its collaboration with the National Security Agency’s massive electronic spying efforts as proportionate, carefully monitored, and well within the bounds of privacy laws. But according to a top-secret document in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, GCHQ secretly coveted the NSA’s vast troves of private communications and sought “unsupervised access” to its data as recently as last year – essentially begging to feast at the NSA’s table while insisting that it only nibbles on the occasional crumb.
The document, dated April 2013, reveals that GCHQ requested broad new authority to tap into data collected under a law that authorizes a variety of controversial NSA surveillance initiatives, including the PRISM program.
PRISM is a system used by the NSA and the FBI to obtain the content of personal emails, chats, photos, videos, and other data processed by nine of the world’s largest internet companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Skype. The arrangement GCHQ proposed would also have provided the British agency with greater access to millions of international phone calls and emails that the NSA siphons directly from phone networks and the internet.
The Snowden files do not indicate whether NSA granted GCHQ’s request, but they do show that the NSA was “supportive” of the idea, and that GCHQ was permitted extensive access to PRISM during the London Olympics in 2012. The request for the broad access was communicated at “leadership” level, according to the documents. Neither agency would comment on the proposed arrangement or whether it was approved.’