Was the Communications Data Bill just a cover for Prism Data?

It’s been hard to miss the coverage of revelations that the US government has been scooping up data from tech giants such as Apple and Facebook – you’ve probably already seen newspaper reporting on the Prism project slides.

What’s surprising is that people think this is cause for renewed concern. Data in the cloud really should not be considered secure. The Americans have some sort of quasi-legel process for handling this, but I doubt other foreign intelligence is And if you are a big corporate, your data – blueprints, designs, release and pricing information – is probably of more interest to them too, as they can then give it to their own companies to produce cheap knockoffs.

And it’s not like the media in this country are any better behaved either. Personally, I regard all data on Facebook as near-enough public. Privacy settings stop my neighbours snooping but little else.

Rather more concerning is the UK involvement in this. According to the Guardian, “Prism would appear to allow GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside the UK.”

This is interesting in light of the recently proposed Communications Data Bill. If the security services already have access to the data, what was the bill for? One option is that it would have allowed open use of Prism data in UK courts, without raising questions as to it’s origin.

Another is rather more concerning: In exchange for Prism data we were expected to be able to generate similar data for the US on data travelling through UK-based servers and networks, building a global network of surveillance by states on each other’s citizens.


  1. Actually this sort of thing has demonstrably been going on for quite some time, via the Menwith Hill base in Yorkshire. There’s a decent history of the place here: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/echelon07.htm

    To summarise, since at least 1992 and probably back to the 1960s, Menwith Hill has had the capacity to snoop on telephone communications on a grand scale. Menwith Hill is an American base on British soil, and the inference here is that a lot of information sharing is going on.

    The NSA are forbidden from spying on the US government, and the UK intelligence services similarly forbidden from spying on their own sides. However, each would seem to use the other to do this spying, then share the info in a cosy little relationship.

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