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Defence: UK Government backs legality of GCHQ embroiled in 'spying' row

Foreign Secretary William Hague has defended the work of spy station GCHQ, after it became embroiled in a row over the use of data gathered by the controversial American 'Prism' programme, reports Yahoo! News.

The news that the UK was a recipient of data from the US Prism programme broke on Friday, as The Guardian and The Washington Post published details of information provided to it by Edward Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) employee.

The papers disclosed details of the US 'Prism' system, which gathers information about individuals' use of American-based internet sites for analysis by US government agencies.

The most surprising aspect of the leak on Friday, was the news that the UK Government was in receipt of data collected by the Prism system concerning UK internet users' use of American-based sites, including Facebook, Yahoo and Google.

Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ), based in Cheltenham, handles the UK Government's signals intelligence. It is now at the centre of a legal storm as widespread monitoring of UK citizens' internet access is not permitted by law.

The Government has been criticised for attempting to put in place a 'snooper's charter' (Communications Data Bill) that would allow it greater freedom to store emails, texts and phone calls. Now it stands accused of carrying out just such an exercise via the 'back door', by being in receipt of data collected by the US Government.

Prism

The furore has grew with the disclosure in the leaked NSA document that all the major US tech companies, including household names such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo, were complicit in the Prism scheme - effectively signing up to allow the US Government access to server data.

This revelation sent shockwaves through the technology industry over the weekend, prompting major technology players including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Larry Page to quickly announce that they had never heard of Prism.

This is despite the fact that they are named in the NSA document as having 'joined' the Prism scheme - designed to collect usage data on citizens living outside the US.

President Obama spoke over the weekend to confirm the existence of the Prism system, leading some to question whether the individual technology companies are lying about their knowledge of Prism, whilst others ponder whether there are secret divisions within the major internet companies of which the bosses are as yet unaware.

Data sharing

Government collection of internet usage data is certainly not new and all companies admit to disclosing data to intelligence agencies when requested to do so within the confines of the law. However, open access to live and stored user data without specific permission would be a step on from the existing position.

Defending the Government's data-sharing relationship with the US, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "Intelligence gathering in this country, by the UK, is governed by a very strong legal framework so that we get the balance right between the liberties and privacy of people and the security of the country."

"Of course we share a lot of information with the United States... But if information arrives in the UK from the U.S. it's governed by our laws," he added.

Source:

UK says eavesdropping is legal, defends U.S. spy links (Yahoo! News)