Things have gone rather quiet on the Snowden leaks front recently, prompting some to wonder whether we have now heard all the really shocking stories. That's been denied a few times by people in the know, who suggested that there was, indeed, more big stuff to come. And some of it turned up yesterday:
American and British spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
It's one of the longest, most-detailed stories that The Intercept has published so far, and is well-worth reading in its entirety. What it shows is that GCHQ and the NSA really do want access to everything, and that they are prepared to do more or less anything to get that. Put together with all the other Snowden revelations, plus the news from earlier this week about infected hard drive firmware - almost certainly another NSA project - and things might seem utterly desperate.
And yet there are some glimmers of hope. A couple of weeks ago, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which reviews complaints about surveillance in the UK, decided that British intelligence services acted unlawfully in accessing millions of people's personal communications collected by the NSA - the first time it has ever ruled against the intelligence and security services in its 15-year history. It's true that the ruling was unsatisfactory in many ways, but it still sets an important precedent. And then just this week, the UK government was forced to make a humiliating admission that it was unlawful for intelligence agencies to have monitored privileged conversations between lawyers and their clients for the past five years.
Those two victories, although small, are important because they give the lie to the UK government's tiresome mantra that although it wouldn't say what it did, whatever that was, it was totally legal at all times. We now have proof that simply isn't true.
Moreover, there is an important consequence flowing from the fact that certain GCHQ activities have been established as illegal. Privacy International, which has been one of the leading organisations fighting against the blanket surveillance revelaed by Snowden, has started an important new legal action:
Have you ever made a phone call, sent an email, or, you know, used the internet? Of course you have!
Chances are, at some point over the past decade, your communications were swept up by the U.S. National Security Agency's mass surveillance program and passed onto Britain's intelligence agency GCHQ. A recent court ruling found that this sharing was unlawful but no one could find out if their records were collected and then illegally shared between these two agencies… until now!
Because of our recent victory against the UK intelligence agency in court, now anyone in the world — yes, ANYONE, including you — can find out if GCHQ illegally received information about you from the NSA.
Join our campaign by entering your details below to find out if GCHQ illegally spied on you, and confirm via the email we send you. We'll then go to court demanding that they finally come clean on unlawful surveillance.
There's no guarantee that GCHQ will be forced to respond, or that its response will be at all useful. But it's the best we've got, and also the first opportunity we have had to start demanding some transparency about the illegal surveillance activities of GCHQ and others. I've signed up, and I hope that many other will too: the more people that join this action, the greater the political impact it will have, and the more likely it is that the UK government will feel obliged to respond - and maybe even rein in its unjustified and disproportionate domestic surveillance programmes.