Dateline: 31st October 2013

GCHQ In new hacking allegations: Google, Yahoo named among targets

GCHQ has long been established as the beating heart of UK clandestine intelligence operations. Earlier this year, it was fingered as a prime co-operator with the USA's equally shadowdy National Security Agency and the alleged PRISM program - which is said to give the agencies massive and unregulated access to phone data.

The new allegations claim that the US and UK intelligence community effectively 'hack' into overseas servers of the two largest email providers in the world: Yahoo! and Google. Naturally, the NSA was swift to deny the claims:

NSA director General Keith Alexander told the Washington Post:

"Not to my knowledge, that's never happened. In fact, there was this allegation last June that NSA was tapping into the servers of Yahoo or Google or our industry reps. That is factually incorrect. The servers and everything that we do with those, those companies work with us, they are compelled to work with us. This isn't something the court just said, 'would you please work with them and just throw data over it.' It is compelled and these are specific requirements that come from a court order."

While on the face of it there is some reassurance for those who believe the NSA's statements in those words. However, it is notable that the NSA has the power - through the courts - to 'compel' companies to hand over data. Prima facie, this indicates that the process is legal and watertight. On the other hand, of course, it is well-documented that intelligence agencies operate on the very edge of legality and push hard to coerce legislators into allowing them further leeway to pursue data collection on all fronts on the grounds of "national security."

Whether it follows from this that personal data of innocent civilians isn't swept into the net (purposefully or not) is a question that remains unanswered - as are questions about why GCHQ is so heavily in bed with US operations.
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