GCHQ sought NSA's mass collection of surveillance data

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The U.S. is after Edward Snowden for leaking top-secret NSA documents.
The U.S. is after Edward Snowden for leaking top-secret NSA documents.

Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) sought unsupervised access to communications and data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA) through its much-criticized surveillance tactics, Snowden documents revealed by The Intercept show.

In an April 2013 document, GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA, sought to increase its authority to gain entrée into NSA's data coffers under Section 702 of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA), which allows NSA to collect communications of persons who are “reasonably believed” to be outside the borders of the U.S. and serves as the guiding authority for the agency's controversial PRISM program as well as other surveillance initiatives.

The internal, “top secret” document was put together for the NSA director at the time, Gen. Keith Alexander, before a visit from GCHQ head Sir Iain Lobban, who was to join Alexander for dinner in his home April 30, 2013. Among other issues and talking points listed in the memo was the assertion that “unsupervised access to FAA 702 data ... remains on GCHQ's wish list and is something its leadership still desires.”

The British spy agency has long professed to sharing information with the NSA but in the past has claimed that the collaboration remained within legal boundaries.

In a statement last June, British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement assuring Britons that “the arrangements for oversight and the general framework for exchanging information with the United States” didn't differ from those under past governments. In addition, a British Intelligence and Security Committee review concluded that the GCHQ had not “circumvented UK law by using the NSA's PRISM programme to access the content of private communications" – nor worked outside of established channels.

“In each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place, in accordance with the legal safeguards contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000,” the committee report said.

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