The latest leak from the Snowden horde of NSA documents provides us with some disturbing new information about the extent to which GCHQ feels that it has the right to spy on everything we do, even when it’s a perfectly legal activity:
One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.
So, if you have ever visited Wikileaks, and weren’t using some technique to obscure your IP address (which you probably weren’t, since you knew that you weren’t up to anything nefarious), you are now on a database of ne’er-do-wells that have dared to visit a site that the UK and US governments don’t like.
This is a new low for a government that has already shown deep contempt for the British public and its right to privacy. It is now monitoring who looks at particular sites that it disapproves of, without any grounds for doing so (we broke no laws when we accessed Wikileaks.) It emphasises how completely out of date and toothless the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act (RIPA) is in terms of controlling what GCHQ can and cannot spy on. It shows once more why we need to update this law to reflect the radically different world in which we now live compared to that envisaged in 2000, when RIPA was passed, in order to provide some real oversight and control of spying agencies that seem increasingly a threat to freedom in this country.
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