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GCHQ Sets Sight On Space, Collects Huge Amounts Of Satellite Phone Records

Monday, May 4th, 2015

After spying on journalists and tracking iPhone users in real time, British spy agency GCHQ has now set its sight on space. As per a new report published by the German publication Der Spiegel, the agency is not only collecting a huge amount of satellite phone records but is also sharing them with its US counterpart NSA. Whistleblower Edward Snowden has leaked several documents in the past which show the extent of co-operation between the American and British intelligence agencies and this looks like yet another instance when the two came together to spy on millions of people.

As per the report, GCHQ is intercepting satellite phone records and sharing them with the NSA through its center located at Bude, North Cornwall. The center is not only known for collection of satellite phone data but also for interception of internet traffic routed via the transatlantic undersea cables. The center is also a symbol of co-operation between the American and British intelligence agencies and as per the documents leaked by Snowden, United States paid a significant amount of money for its redevelopment.

While intelligence agencies from many countries keep a tab on satellite phone data, this case is different because GCHQ not only collected phone records but also ran tests to establish whether the intercepted numbers belonged to high value targets including government officials from foreign countries. At times, the agency also intercepted the entire satellite phone traffic from a pair of countries (for instance, Germany-Turkey, Germany-Georgia etc.). Voice traffic over satellite is difficult to intercept since it is compressed but GCHQ ran tests not only to grab metadata but also to highlight the intelligence value of the conversations and seek unmonitored satellite links for monitoring and tasking.

The documents obtained by Der Spiegel show that the Bude center had phone numbers of German government officials and overseas embassies since 2009. They also reveal that GCHQ ran tests on conversations of several high profile organizations and officials including the United Nations Institute for Disarmament, Thales freight and logistics as well as Joaquin Almunia from the European Commission.

European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen has strongly condemned the targeting of foreign governments and EU Officials by the British spy agency. She said that the news about interception of satellite phone records follows other such revelations which are totally unacceptable and deserve to be condemned. She further added that such behavior is not expected from strategic partners and members of the Union.

Commenting on the role of United States in the entire episode, Pia said that the European Commission is working with the US government to deal with such issues and has discussed several measures in order to restore trust and confidence among the transatlantic partners. She also added that the Commission welcomes the internal review process initiated by the US administration and hoped that it would lead to intelligence gathering that respects the democratic setup within Europe as well as the fundamental rights of European citizens.

May 4, 2015

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