GCHQ believes it is entitled to “indiscriminately intercept” communications sent by British citizens via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google, it has been suggested.
A government policy, disclosed by Britain’s top counter-terrorism chief as part of ongoing legal proceedings, seeks to justify the “mass surveillance” of social media, according to civil liberty campaigners.
The policy details described in a written statement by Charles Farr, Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, have been published by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pakistani organization Bytes for All.
The groups have brought legal action brought against the UK Government to find out how much online activity is being monitored.
Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s senior director for law and policy, said: “British citizens will be alarmed to see their government justifying industrial-scale intrusion into their communications.
“The public should demand an end to this wholesale violation of their right to privacy.”
The policy suggests almost all communications via Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as all web searches via Google, could be classed as “external communications”, making them fair game to be read and looked at, because they use web-based “platforms” based in the USA.
“Internal” communications can only be intercepted under a specific warrant; warrants that are only granted where there is some suspicion of unlawful activity.
An individual’s “external communications” may be intercepted “indiscriminately” even where there are no grounds to suspect any wrongdoing.
The groups believe GCHQ could be intercepting all communications sent via US-based “platforms” before determining whether they fall into the “internal” or “external” categories.