The British Government Communications Headquarters has secretly been monitoring activity on sites like YouTube, Facebook and Blogspot and sharing it with its U.S. counterpart, the National Security Agency, according to more documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
NBC News reports the agency has also successfully tapped the hard lines carrying global web traffic to collect data about users’ trends. The purpose of the program, codenamed “Squeaky Dolphin,” attempts to match up trends in data to global events, and give the agency a formula for predicting future anti-government events.
The agency was able to keep active track of what type of users in a given general location “liked” certain types of videos, blogs and websites.
Documents dated 2012 explain how GCHQ demonstrated for the NSA the way in which it was able to collect addresses and user information in real-time from billions of watched videos daily from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Neither Facebook or Google, which owns YouTube, were aware of GCHQ’s surveillance efforts, and were reportedly “shocked” to find out. Both companies indicated they were not willfully sharing data with the British communications intelligence agency.
Squeaky Dolphin is the latest in a number of joint programs conducted by GCHQ and NSA leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Of those programs, numerous indicated both agencies were able to tap the fiber optic cables that carry Internet data around the globe, and extract huge amounts of information from them.
“Governments have no business knowing which YouTube videos everyone in the world is watching,” ACLU chief technologist Chris Soghoian told NBC. “It’s one thing to spy on a particular person who has done something to warrant a government investigation but governments have no business monitoring the Facebook likes or YouTube views of hundreds of millions of people.”
A note written in the documents said the program was, “Not interested in individuals just broad trends!” and was born in response to governments like the UK and U.S. missing the warning signs that preceded the Arab Spring.
Cybersecurity experts cited by NBC said data about specific users could be pulled from such a program, and that GCHQ used such data to target specific Twitter users with propaganda in 2010, according to additional documents provided by Snowden.
GCHQ refused to confirm or deny the program, and the NSA stated it was not interested in any data not concerned with foreign intelligence targets.