LONDON, (Reuters) – Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has tapped fibre-optic cables that carry international phone and internet traffic and is sharing vast quantities of personal information with the U.S. National Security Agency, the Guardian newspaper said yesterday.
The paper, which has in recent weeks been publishing details of top-secret surveillance programs exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, said on its website that Snowden had shown it documents about a project codenamed “Tempora.”
Tempora has been running for about 18 months and allows GCHQ, which stands for Government Communications Headquarters, to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days, the paper said.
The Guardian said Snowden had provided it with access to documents about GCHQ’s alleged cable-tapping operation as part of his effort to expose “the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.”
For decades, the NSA and GCHQ have worked as close partners, sharing intelligence under an arrangement known as the UKUSA agreement. They also collaborate with eavesdropping agencies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand under an arrangement known as the “Five Eyes” alliance.
The latest Guardian story will likely put more pressure on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to reassure the public about how data about them is collected and used.
Earlier this month, in response to questions about the secret U.S. data-monitoring program Prism, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament that GCHQ always adhered to British law when processing data gained from eavesdropping.