U.K. Monitors Britons That Use Google, Facebook, Twitter
In the post-Snowden era, courts—not individuals—are turning out to be the new source of disclosure on the activities of nation-state surveillance.A year ago, U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden opened the world's eyes to the issue of mass surveillance. In the post-Snowden era, whistleblowers aren't the only way the world is learning about the nuances of government surveillance—court actions are also proving to be a source of illumination. A legal challenge from civil liberties groups around the world against the United Kingdom's intelligence services, including the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), over mass surveillance has yielded some interesting insight into the perceived legality of the practice. On June 17, Privacy International published the witness statement of Charles Farr, director general of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism at the United Kingdom's Home Office. Farr's statement reveals the British policy and justification for mass surveillance of Internet users in that country. Mass surveillance is generally not something that would be allowed under British law without a warrant, but Farr's statement indicates that the rules differ when the communications go outside the United Kingdom. "A Google search by an individual located in the U.K. may well involve a communication from the searcher's computer to a Google Web server, which is received outside the British Islands; and a communication from Google to the searcher's computer, which is sent outside the British Islands," Farr stated. "In such a case, the search would correspondingly involve two external communications."
The same logic holds true for Facebook and Twitter even more so, since those services both technically reside within the United States as platforms where the communications remain. As such, since Google, Facebook and Twitter use by British citizens is considered external to the United Kingdom, Farr sees it within the realm of the law for intelligence officers to monitor.