The Government Communications Headquarters of the UK monitors the Web activity and habits of everyone online through a spy program implemented to gather data on Internet users.
Edward Snowden, National Security Agency whistle-blower, leaked documents regarding GCHQ's activities, exposing the purpose of "Karma Police," the code name of the surveillance operation. The agency's aim was to build a profile for every visible user on the Internet, recording each individual's visits to any website, from news sites to social media, as well as searches. The program even went so far as to analyze emails, Skype calls, instant messenger conversations, social media activities and cell phone locations, looking out for any suspicious use on Google.
Other operations found in the official documents that The Intercept obtained included vague project names, such as Salty Otter and Moose Milk, two other operations that also involve data collection. The agency doesn't stop there, however, as GCHQ tapped into even popular websites such as Google, Reuters, Yahoo, YouTube, Hotmail, Reddit, Facebook, Amazon and WordPress. Websites run by BBC, CNN, UK's Channel 4 and even PornHub were not spared from the invasion of privacy.
In March 2009, the program already recorded more than 1 trillion pieces of metadata in GCHQ's storage, nicknamed "Black Hole." Then in May 2012, more than 50 billion pieces of metadata were collected on a daily basis, which necessitated an increase in capacity. After the program's volume was approximately doubled, it has increased its rate of mining data, and because of the tremendous data stored, GCHQ wasn't capable of holding on to data for more than six months.
As the operation was just underway, GCHQ tested the program and gathered 6.68 million metadata records of 224,000 unique IP addresses targeted at Internet and broadcast radio users. The agency claimed that its goal was to find out whether Islamic radicals used them for their purposes. A division of the GCHQ permitted more work for the data-collecting operation, even though the Pull-Through Steering Group (PTSG) said that "legalities with respect to 'content' need to be cleared."
It is clear that the data-collecting operations have not stopped yet, and there is little evidence to believe otherwise.
"All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate," a GCHQ spokesman said.
Photo: Sebastien Wiertz | Flickr