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back to article PRISM scandal: Brit spooks operated within the law, say politicos

Claims that Britain's intelligence agency GCHQ circumvented UK legislation by using America's controversial PRISM programme to access the content of private communications are false, parliamentarians concluded today. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which is chaired by Tory politico Malcolm Rifkind and made up of …

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If whats been done is true...

Then it's all good. They've abided by the law.

However just one thought. GCHQ provided the committee with the evidence. And they've taken it on faith.

Does that mean I can decide what proof to provide to HMRC about what income tax I'm due to pay and they can take that on faith?

Why wasnt this done as an independent external audit?

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Re: Why wasnt this done as an independent external audit?

Because an independent external audit would've given the wrong answer.

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Big Brother

Re: If whats been done is true...

Exactly. It's effectively saying "We didn't do anything wrong, and we can prove it by showing you this document we wrote ourselves, saying we didn't do anything wrong."

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, etc.

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Re: If whats been done is true...

Do GCHQ and their bosses also get to vet who sits on that committee? I'm sure troublemakers aren't allowed anywhere near anything that might rock the boat.

The government's mantra is still 'trust us, we don't trust you.'

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Meh

Of course they will say this

Who would be able to prove that they didn't?

As it is covered by the official secrets act we will just have to believe them...............

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Mushroom

"From the evidence we have seen..."

So GCHQ presents some cherry-picked examples of legitimate investigations, burying the vast bulk of them that aren't, and our sycophantic puppets just take that on blind faith (or more likely knowingly use it in a cover-up), justifying it with judicial "assurances" that are most likely blanket licenses to spy on everyone for any reason, "just in case" they might be doing something wrong.

Guilty before and regardless of being proven innocent.

And the supposed motive for this tyranny is the laughable "War on Terriers" (or is it Poodles?), or IOW the corporate-sponsored hostile invasion and takeover of foreign countries, and intellectual enslavement of the 99%.

I think it's high time the people declared their own "War on Terror", and we all know who the real terrorists are.

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Unhappy

Re: If whats been done is true...

"However just one thought. GCHQ provided the committee with the evidence. And they've taken it on faith."

Correct.

It could just have easily been called the "The Mushroom Committee," because they've been kept in the dark and fed s**t.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why wasnt this done as an independent external audit?

Because an independent external audit would've given the wrong answer.

As far as I'm aware, that depends on how much you pay the "independent" consultancy. Money doesn't always talk, it sometimes silences. Any time a report needs a budget, he/she/it who pays has leverage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If whats been done is true...

If whats been done is true...

Then it's all good. They've abided by the law.

Well, the tragic fact is that this is actually correct. Let's not forget that they do have a role in protection, like the NSA has too. The problem is what use is made of these facilities. NSA, GCHQ, they simply do what they have been tasked with, like a soldier going to battle they simply do what they're being told.

What you need to examine is not the operator - it is the tasking. Politicians have to explain why GCHQ was asked to do x, y and z, and on what grounds and by whose authority this tasking was done. As always, the politicians have slope-shouldered that question onto the wrong party.

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Re: If whats been done is true...

Yeah it's unlikely (given their boasting about how much data they can hoover up) that they've operated within the wording or the spirit of the law.

If the supposed oversight doesn't have f**ks to give then unfortunately this is just going to end up in court and potentially, down the road, some sort of revolution in the way we are governed.

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WTF?

Re: If whats been done is true...

It's pretty clear from the ISC report that they've made no *attempt* to ascertain if GCHQ have been involved in breaches of RIPA Section 1 - which tells me they don't want to know. They've only really covered access to NSA data which nobody is really interested in.

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Stop

Re: If whats been done is true...

Of COURSE it's legal.

That's the entire point of the project: To use legal loop-holes of international intelligence trading to sidestep local legislation against wiretapping et al.

It's not ethical, in precisely the same way that tax avoidance is merely unethical, rather than illegal.

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Facepalm

Re: If whats been done is true...

There are no loopholes. The law is cut and dry. If you are modifying a public communications network (in this case the internet) with the intent of monitoring communications when not warranted against a specific person or business you are, in fact, committing a criminal offence. It's not about when you read the data, the offence is modifying the network to do it. It's written like that for a reason.

The ISC knows this, the police know this, the CPS knows this. What's the issue?

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"If you are modifying a public communications network ..."

No, the allegation is that the NSA modified the public communications network and GCHQ merely obtained data from the NSA, thereby circumventing the law, legally obtaining data second-hand that would be illegal for them to grab first-hand. We need a data equivalent of "receipt of stolen goods".

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Stop

Re: If whats been done is true...

"There are no loopholes. The law is cut and dry."

There clearly are and it clearly isn't.

Let's go through it slowly:

"If you are modifying a public communications network (in this case the internet) with the intent of monitoring communications when not warranted against a specific person or business you are, in fact, committing a criminal offence. "

Only if it's YOUR people you are monitoring and the specifics depend on where you do it. Nations don't have rules as regards targeting people overseas for such measures or against wiretapping overseas communications networks. So they snoop.on other people from other nations. Then when a friendly nations says "Have you got any info on one of our citizens, old bean?" you can hand it over. The information is illegally gained and inadmissible as far as that other nation is concerned... IF they knew how it was obtained. BUT intelligence reports do NOT divulge the source, for very legitimate operational security reasons. You don't get a piece of paper saying "Bob is planning a terrorist attack because his friend Fred told us when we blackmailed him". Lacking any evidence that the information is gained illegally it is effectively a legitimate report that can then be used to gain specific warrants for further surveillance under court order in an above-board manner.

It's essentially 'laundering' surveillance information and giving plausible deniability. That's the entire point and it works perfectly. Plausible deniability is the absolute key in such matters:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plausible_deniability

We can't ask the NSA how they got their data because it's classified, so it doesn't matter if it came from wiretaps, legitimate means or from pulling out someone's toenails. We do they same for them in return.

Everyone can say it's legal and that they aren't illegally spying on their own people with a straight face.

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If they operated within the law and still spied on us, why does Theresa May want a new law? Perhaps because creating laws keeps politicians in jobs? Thank god for Edward Snowden or none of this would have come out.

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we DO need a new law

But not one that Theresa May would like.

If GCHQ have been acting within the law then the law is flawed and needs tightening up so that it ISN'T within the law.

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Gimp

@Glostermeteor

"If they operated within the law and still spied on us, why does Theresa May want a new law?"

Simple

Because that's what the spooks told her she needed.

Just like they told the seven previous Home Secs they needed it.

She doesn't need it.

You don't want it.

They want it.

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Re: we DO need a new law

The point is that GCHQ operated within the _letter_ but not the _spirit_ of the law. That release was very carefully worded.

OTOH there is also the issue that UK police have been pulling similar stunts to circumvent wiretap warrant requirements by asking GCHQ to provide the wiretap intelligence and then getting warrants based on that is provided.

Once it starts coming out exactly which cases are involved, a number of convictions will be overturned, leading to quite nasty individuals being back on the streets thanks to some cowboy playing shortcuts.

British law may not be bound by constitution, but UK judges take a very dim view of this kind of shenanigan.

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just because its "legal" doesn't make it right (in a number of senses, moral, ethical, etc)

laws are made by parasites in power to keep them in power and protected

and likewise, just because something deemed "illegal" doesn't make it wrong (a number of morally/ethically directed actions comes to mind, which are being pushed by cartels for criminalization and harsher sentences than stuff that does real, not imaginary harm to people - violent crimes, murder, assault, rape, etc)

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Stop

"Thank god for Edward Snowden or none of this would have come out."

Piffle.

It's now just sliced up for popular media consumption. There's a hero, there's a powerpoint presentation, there's media traction. It's not NEWS: It's been going on and people have known about it and been shouting blue murder about it for at least two decades, as a cursory search or two on Google will reveal; but the tale never gained media traction or reached general awareness.

Not that it changes anything still. The revelations have been deflected and in a month GCHQ, the NSA, DGSE et al will be breathing a sigh of relief at the public returning to its fascination will celeb gossip and the latest murder, and things will go on as before.

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Coat

in a month GCHQ, the NSA, DGSE et al will be breathing a sigh of relief at the public returning to its fascination will celeb gossip and the latest murder, and things will go on as before.

As conspiracy theories go, I have yet to hear someone observing that that Royal baby seems suspiciously well timed. This would somehow suggest the Palace knew this 9 months ago. You heard it here first :).

No, of course I'm not serious, but I do wholly agree with the point about the public attention span which rarely exceeds that of a hamster on speed.

I'll have the one with all the wires hanging out, thanks.

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Anonymous Coward

Definition of Irony

GCHQ operates within the law spying on the personal info of millions in the EU and politicians are fine with it.

Mega-corps operate their taxes within the law, but politicians are up in arms about it.

So if it's to their advantage, they seem to be fine with warping the laws to their benefit. Hmmm...

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Re: Definition of Irony

"So if it's to their advantage, they seem to be fine with warping the laws to their benefit."

You're just arriving to that conclusion now? Also, on the tax thing, you will notice lots of screaming but very little to no action, since they also don't have an issue with warping the laws to protect their Mega-corp overlords.

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We are innocent

So say us.

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Re: We are innocent

And we know where all your skeletons are buried

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Black Helicopters

Well, they would say that...

wouldn't they?

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Anonymous Coward

Government says they need to spy on us to ensure we're behaving. Government tries to get around or stop disclosure of their conduct via freedom of information laws.

What is it with the ruling elite these days? We can't even read the letters that old jug ears is sending to MPs despite him being a publicly funded parasite.

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FAIL

"Claims that Britain's intelligence agency GCHQ circumvented UK legislation by using America's controversial PRISM programme to access the content of private communications are false, parliamentarians concluded today."

Well they would say that, wouldn't they?

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re: GCHQ circumvented UK legislation

That is true they didn't - because they didn't have to. The existing legislation lets them do anything they want.

They may have allowed the NSA to circumvent US legislation, but that's because the US doesn't have as much control over it's subjects as we do.

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Re: re: GCHQ circumvented UK legislation

"The existing legislation lets them do anything they want." - No it doesn't. Not by a long chalk (yet).

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Flame

I wonder...

Would these be the same MPs who thought that charging the taxpayer (i.e. us) for their hanging baskets, bog seats, and rent paid to lovers etc. was also legal, above board & honest?

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Timing

It took 3+ weeks for them to rebut the claims? You know something is really sketchy if it takes that long to build an ass covering backstory.

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Re: Timing

Well, it takes a while to sift through everything finding the few that actually have warrants....

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Re: Timing

"From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded." Looks like a bit of arse covering wiggle room there too. The ISC can later say "Oops we didn't see that bit of evidence."

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Odd isn't it...

GCHQ operated within the law, so everything is ok.

Google obeyed the tax laws, but gets dragged in for questioning because they were "morally" naughty.

So which one is it HMGov? Letter of the law, or spirit of the law?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Odd isn't it...

The founders of Google? Didn't go the right schools. And they're foreigners, to boot. Not like those splendid chaps working hard to protect us from the terrorist menace... KCMGs all round!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Odd isn't it...

nothing odd here:

With Google, Amazon, etc tax debacle, the spirit of the law, because the politicians can blame those companies because:

a) it gives them brownie points with the voters (they think)

b) it shifts the focus of attention from WHO INTRODUCED LAX TAX LAWS (politicians).

whereas,

with snooping, it's the letter of the law, because there's nothing to gain by the politicians, if they were to harp on the morality of snooping. And, if anyone raises the moral ground, they'll be quickly shot down with "paramount interest of protecting [the great, British] public.

In either case, with or without demands from the public, neither laws or will get changed.

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Anonymous Coward

They didn't operate within the law

RIPA permits targeted surveillance with warrant (unfortunately political, signed by William Hague, rather than a judge).

Grabbing all the data, storing it in a big database, then filtering for a target is not equivalent to that.

It's not equivalent, because William Hague has no way of determining the legality of the surveillance, that data included client-lawyer data, medical data, financial data, Parliament communications, the lot. The search is what reduces it to a legal result or not.

The search occurs later, after the warrant is issued.

So the two processes are not equivalent, and Hague is wrong to pretend untargeted mass surveillance with data retention and filtering is equivalent to a targeted intercept as provided by RIPA.

As to PRISM, well USA has a filter for 51% American, GCHQ has no such filter. So are Brits less of people to William Hague than Americans? I mean GCHQ are 'fine upstanding people' and Brits are not, because we don't even deserve a warrant with evidence? Not even a crappy filter?

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Re: They didn't operate within the law

Re the PRISM filter where they say "it's okay, we're not watching Americans", it immediately makes me think, so you leave that to GCHQ to do, and then they share the data.

I'm amazed HMGov didn't try the same con whilst acquiring the data they didn't collect from the Americans.

They're all a bunch of two faced liars, the lot of them.

Semtex, AK47, arms shipment, assassination.... Chew on that.

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Big Brother

Legal?

I really don't think legal or not is the real issue here.

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Redacted

"It has been alleged that GCHQ circumvented UK law by using the NSA’s PRISM programme to access the content of private communications. From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded."

And who provided the evidence that was seen? And what did the three monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil & wait for the New Year's Honours politicians do to ensure that what they were given (by GCHQ: the same lot who were accused) was a full, complete and accurate account of the goings on?

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"Operated within the law"

Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Vodafone...

Ahhhh politicians, they always want to EAT the cake as well....

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Re: "Operated within the law"

Most people like eating cake

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Happy

Re: "Operated within the law"

Vote YES for cake!

I was going to come up with a nifty campaign slogan, but cake is hard to rhyme.

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Re: "Operated within the law"

How about For f@@ks sake just vote for cake?

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Happy

Re: "Operated within the law"

Given that the alternative is "or death", I don't think you'd need that much of a campaign.

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Unhappy

@ Don Jefe

Fake rhymes pretty well with cake, and that's what the gubbermint response is.

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Re: "Operated within the law"

I thought the cake is a lie ...

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Isn't that the problem?

It certainly is Over Here.

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