Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters has secretly gained access to the network of cables that carry the world’s phone calls and Internet traffic and has begun to process vast amounts of personal information that it shares with the U.S. National Security Agency, documents provided by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden reveal.

The British spy agency has named the two principal parts of its program Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation. Both schemes aim at scooping up as much digital traffic as possible and are being carried out without input from the public, which was never informed of the operations.

A total of 850,000 NSA employees and U.S. private contractors with top security clearances have access to GCHQ databases, The Guardian newspaper figures.

Documents provided by Snowden reveal that by 2012 GCHQ was handling 60 million “telephone events” each day and had tapped more than 200 fiber-optic cables.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

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.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.

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