Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has confirmed for the first time that its agents are actively snooping on the Google, Facebook, Hotmail, Yahoo and Twitter accounts of British citizens.
A loophole in current privacy laws means that the government can track such accounts without the need for an individual warrant as the firms which operate such services are based overseas – thus allowing them to be classified as ‘external communications’.
This label means they are not subject to the onerous civil liberties requirements demanded of home grown communications and giving the government free rein to spy at will and negating the need to first find connections to terrorism or serious crime.
Charles Farr, the head of the government’s office for security and counter terrorism made the admission that such external data can be trawled under a broader warrant without the need for a minister’s signature.
This came following a legal battle with Privacy International which lambasted the government for ‘patronising’ Britons.
In a statement GCHQ said its work ‘is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate’.