Inside the British government’s sweeping cyber surveillance program

For years, the British government has reportedly tracked and stored billions of records of Internet use by British citizens and those outside the UK in an effort to track every visible user on the Internet. Ryan Gallagher of the Intercept joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Brighton, England, with more on UK cyber surveillance.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For years, the British government has reportedly tracked and stored billions of records of Internet use by British citizens and people outside the U.K., in an effort to track every visible user on the internet. That finding comes from "The Intercept" Web site, which is publishing findings from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's leak on government surveillance practices.

    "Intercept" reporter Ryan Gallagher wrote the story and joins me now via Skype from Brighton, England.

    First of all, explain the scale of surveillance that was happening from the British equivalent of the NSA, the GCHQ.

  • RYAN GALLAGHER, THE INTERCEPT:

    Well, the skill is quite phenomenal. I mean, it's hard to translate it when you just see the numbers. But you're talking about 50 (ph) to 100 billion metadata records of phone calls and e-mails every single day. So vast, vast quantities of information they're sweeping up. And they were talking by 2030 having in place the world's largest surveillance system, so, a system that surpasses even what the NSA and U.S. has built itself.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK, when somebody hears that there's millions and billions and possibly trillions of pieces of data, they're going to say, you know, what, how do you actually identify this is specifically me that's doing this, or going to the site, or saying this thing in a chat room?

  • RYAN GALLAGHER:

    Uh-huh. Well, I mean, we have — we don't actually — one of the interesting parts of the story is that we had a bunch of specific cases where, for example, we had monitored something like 200,000 people from something like 185 different countries, so almost every country in the world, they have listened to radio source (ph) through their computer. In one case, they decided to pick out just one of these people. It seems like at random, and what web site he had been viewing.

    So, it's kind of an all-seeing system. When you're gathering that amount of information, it's going to be something that does have an impact and effect in all of us really.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, the GCHQ has even more lax oversight than even the NSA does. What are they doing with this information? You in your articled, you pointed to a couple of cases of almost corporate espionage.

  • RYAN GALLAGHER:

    Uh-huh. Well, yes, indeed their — with the information, we have the case where they were monitoring people listening to Internet radio shows. There's a couple of other really fascinating and important cases where's they've used this information to (INAUDIBLE) to European — major European telecommunications companies. The reason they did that is because they wanted to get into these companies' systems and steal information that they held in their systems because that would help them spy on other people.

    And so, you know, also, in these cases, they cause — these amounted to major cyber attacks, cyberattacks in Europe on allied countries, and companies in allied countries causing millions of dollars in your currency damage. And so, you know, the ramifications are quite severe. Even just in terms of the European Union, what the U.K. agency is doing in Europe.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Ryan Gallagher from "The Intercept" — thanks so much for joining us.

  • RYAN GALLAGHER:

    Thanks for having me on.

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