THe Guardian has a new story about mass data collection activities that are being jointly conducted by the US NSA and the UK GCHQ.
One key innovation has been GCHQ's ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.
GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.
By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.Last week there was a Guardian story about GCHQ data gathering activities. In the comments on diary reporting it there were objections that this had nothing to do with the US and thus it was irrelevant to the issues about NSA activities. Today's story offers some very specific details about the nature and level of close cooperation between the two agencies.
The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US".
When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was "your call".
The Guardian understands that a total of 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.
The US and the UK have had a close relationship in terms of national security and defense programs ever since WWII. There have been a few occasions of disagreement, but they have never been allowed to interfere with The Special Relationship. What is really interesting here is the difference between the two legal systems and how it appears to be exploited by US spy agencies in order to circumvent constitutional protections.
While this story is not a definitive and final answer to what is really going on with all of this, it is yet another interesting piece on the pile.