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Main claim that GCHQ snoops on ALL our internet use is dismissed by MPs' inquiry

By Jack Doyle

Daily Mail – 13 March 2015

GCHQ was last night cleared of carrying out mass surveillance of the public using vast trawls of internet traffic. The Intelligence and Security Committee said the central claims made by the Guardian newspaper on the back of documents stolen by American whistle-blower Edward Snowden were wrong and it cleared the Government's listening station of wrongdoing.

After an 18-month inquiry, the committee dismissed the claims that GCHQ had "blanket coverage" of web communications and was rooting indiscriminately through private messages. In reality, it said, GCHQ can access only a small part of the web and operatives see only a "tiny fraction" of the messages collected after a sophisticated filtering process. The committee concluded that the only items seen by analysts were those of the "highest intelligence value", and these amounted to several thousand a day.

Tory MP Mark Field, a member of the committee, said:

"The big mistake that Snowden and the Guardian made in its coverage was to equate bulk data with bulk surveillance. The truth is that the filtering process means that a tiny proportion of the bulk data that is collected is ever examined. That point was never really made by the Guardian, who gave the impression that with every phone call, every email and every text message, the public had a spy on their shoulder."

Labour MP Hazel Blears said the "two main claims" made off the back of the Snowden leaks were untrue and surveillance was neither blanket nor indiscriminate.

"What we've found is that the way in which the agencies use the capabilities they have is authorised, lawful, necessary and proportionate. But what we've also found is there is a degree of confusion and lack of transparency about the way in which this is authorised in our legal system. It is that lack of transparency that leads to people reaching the conclusion that there is blanket surveillance, indiscriminate surveillance."

Another committee member, Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis, compared the process to using a magnet to pull a needle from a haystack. The agency does not have the "legal authority, the resources or the technical capability" to intercept such vast amounts of material, the report concluded. The committee recommended a new law bringing together all the intelligence and security legislation.

Snowden, who was a computer specialist at an intelligence centre in Hawaii, released 1.7million files in one of the biggest security leaks in US history. He fled to Russia, where he was granted asylum ...


"The allegation arising from the [Snowden] leaks is that GCHQ 'hoover up' and collect all internet communications. Some of those who gave evidence to this inquiry said 'the agencies are monitoring the whole stream all the time', referring to the 'apparent ubiquity of surveillance'. We have explored whether this is the case. It is clear that both for legal reasons and due to resource constraints, it is not: GCHQ cannot conduct indiscriminate blanket interception of all communications. It would be unlawful for them to do so, since it would not be necessary or proportionate, as required by [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act]. Moreover, GCHQ do not have the capacity to do so and can only cover a fraction of internet communications.”