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U.K. Internet Surveillance Program ‘Karma Police’ Leaked By Edward Snowden

If you have browsed the web, sent an email, made a call on Skype, texted a friend, or used a cell phone since August 2007, chances are the U.K. government knows exactly where you have been, who you spoke to, what you said, and when the activity was made.

Code-named “KARMA POLICE” after the Radiohead song, the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) internet surveillance program was launched uncontested in 2007 and aims to track and record every activity made by every visible user on the internet.

Information on the GCHQ program was released to The Intercept on September 25 by the famous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to the leaked documents, the GCHQ takes advantage of the fact a majority of internet traffic is routed through what is described as a “massive repository” known as the “Black Hole.”  Using “probes”, the agency is able to tap into the data traveling through the Black Hole, giving the GCHQ access to data that shows what information is being sent and by who.

The information is tracked and stored indiscriminately, so the spy system records your activities regardless if you are shopping for school or browsing adult-themed websites.

In order to keep track of every user on the internet — which if you didn’t know, comes out to be over 3.2 billion people today — it is unsurprising that a massive amount of data needs to be collected and stored.

To alleviate the problem of having to sort through that plethora of data, the GCHQ automatically sorts it into different sub-systems depending on what type of activity it is (web browser history, instant message, GPS, etc.), and the information is used to build a profile on each internet user.  Certain “suspicious” Google searches are flagged for review.

According to Engadget, in 2009 the GCHQ attempted to identify Islamic extremists and the spread of radical Islamic propaganda by tracking the listening habits of hundreds of thousands of people. Those found to be streaming an Iraqi radio station were flagged and the GCHQ used their privileged access to find out who each person was and what they were talking about by connecting the IP addresses of the listeners to their social media profiles.

The leaks will undoubtedly renew concerns over the legality of this type of surveillance, concerns that have still yet to be satisfactorily addressed after Snowden’s previous leaks.

Wired discusses perhaps one of the most controversial tidbits coming from the KARMA POLICE documents; the conspiracy between the U.S. and U.K. governments to highjack automatic updates that software companies release to their users.  If a court order is obtained by either government, software manufacturers can be compelled to distribute a “software update” that isn’t really an update.  Once the software update is sent out, an individual could be forced to install the government’s spyware on their computer or smartphone — without their knowledge — in order to give the government access to the data stored on the device.

According to the document being cited from, the tactic is not widely used because if people become aware of its existence they may opt-out of automatic updates, reducing its effectiveness.

Such activities would likely lead to incarceration if an individual was found to be spying on others using these tactics, and this fact is leading many to question the motives of our governments, especially since all of this has been done in secret.

The Intercept, which prides itself on being “a truly free and independent press” has posted dozens of the leaked documents online.

Just two years ago, the NSA entered the spotlight when whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information on a massive surveillance program the United States government was using to track the activities of internet users.

In May, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA surveillance program was illegal.  The decision was later reversed in August.

Last year it was revealed that in building the spy program, the NSA threatened Yahoo in 2007 with massive fines if it did not satisfy a demand to hand over confidential user data to the government.  Yahoo fought the NSA, but faced with the threat of inevitable bankruptcy, the company had no choice but to comply.

What do you think?  Is the race for intelligence pushing our governments to take internet surveillance too far?

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