It has merely been a couple of weeks since former CIA technical analyst Edward Snowden blew the whistle on NSA’s top secret PRISM program, under which it is collecting data from major internet companies. Snowden has now leaked documents which reveal that UK’s eavesdropping agency, the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, is allegedly intercepting large quantities of web and telephone call data by tapping fiber optic cables directly which carry internet and telephony traffic. The program is called Tempora and is based on two components called Mastering The Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation. GCHQ is reportedly intercepting phone traffic as well and is sharing collected data with NSA.
The Guardian quotes Snowden saying that the UK is “worse than the U.S.” as Tempora has been dubbed by him as the human history’s largest program of “suspicionless surveillance”, leaked documents claim that GCHQ is able to tap in to fiber optic cables and store data for as long as one month. The Tempora program is believed to be running for over 18 months. Data collected is said to include global e-mail messages, internet histories, calls and Facebook posts. According to the documents, GCHQ was handling 600 million “telephone events” every day last year and that it was tapped in to over 200 million fiber optic cables. Each cable can carry 10 gigabits of data per second which translates in to 21 petabytes of data being collected every date from the tapped ones.
The scale of Tempora is said to be constantly increasing as the GCHQ is tapping in to more and more cables every day, with their facilities being expanded to handle terabits of data, terabits are thousands of gigabits. This program is believed to have been set up in over five years, intercept probes were attached to transatlantic fiber optic cables that pass through UK’s shores carrying data to telephone exchanges in western Europe and internet servers in North America. Commercial companies were allegedly in on this, they are said to have made secret agreements and are identified in a document as “intercept partners.”
We’ve seen confirmations of the PRISM program coming in from various levels, the U.S. National Director of Intelligence even called the program ‘lawful.’ The GCHQ or anyone related to the government in UK has not come out defending or even confirming the existence of Tempora program. Even if they don’t say anything about it, there’s likely to be blowback by organisations that work for online privacy and those who are against blanket surveillance by any government.