The UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee issued a statement today clearing GCHQ of acting illegally while accessing data through the National Security Agency’s PRISM programme in the US.
The Committee says they are “satisfied” that GCHQ is conforming with their statutory duties after looking at a number of areas, including the amount of access the intelligence agency has with PRISM, the legal framework which allows them to do so and the way they share such information with the NSA.
“Further, 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 statement reads.
To be able to complete their investigation, GCHQ submitted large quantities of evidence which included a list of counter-terrorist operations which they carried out using intelligence obtained from the US.
The Director of GCHQ was questioned and the Committee says they also discussed the PRISM programme with both the National Security Agency and Congress during a trip to the US.
Other forms of evidence included a list of individuals based in the UK, or identified as UK citizens, who being monitored as a result of PRISM, as well as the specific types of data being requested and a list of the warrants and sign-offs that enabled GCHQ to target them specifically.
The Committee also requested a number of intelligence reports that were written in relation to GCHQ’s access of the PRISM programme, as well as any “formal agreements” that restricted or regulated their access.
The findings mean that GCHQ has been acting within the British law up until this point. The Committee agrees, however, that a debate is now needed to see whether current legislation “remains adequate” for the level of access GCHQ has with the PRISM programme. These include the Intelligence Services Act 1994, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
GCHQ’s access to the NSA PRISM programme was leaked to The Guardian in July this year by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor. It was subsequently uncovered that the British intelligence agency operates its own data collection similar to PRISM, called Tempora.
GCHQ has reportedly been able to leverage PRISM since June 2010 and created 197 reports using the data last year. Documents of this nature are then usually passed on to MI5 and MI6, the highest and most prolific security services in the UK.
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