According to the latest Edward Snowden leaks, the UK intelligence agency , GCHQ, has monitored in real-time YouTube video views, Facebook “likes” and Blogger visits.
Details of an alleged GCHQ program codenamed Squeaky Dolphin have been published by NBC News.
It reports that the agency showed off its abilities to the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2012.
Facebook has since started encrypting its data, but Google’s YouTube and Blogger services remain unencrypted.
Both firms have said that they did not give GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) permission to access the data.
The alleged operation’s leaked logo – showing a dolphin holding a canister branded GTE – appears to refer to Global Telecoms Exploitation, a GCHQ division believed to be capable of collecting data from fibre-optic cables.
According to an earlier leak, published by the Guardian, GCHQ has been tapping fibre-optic cables to create a “buffer” of information it could search through since at least 2011, as part of a scheme called Tempora.
The newspaper said that by 2012 the agency had tapped more than 200 cables – including transatlantic communication links – and was able to process phone and internet data taken from up to 46 of them at a time.
GCHQ declined to comment on the specifics of the latest report.
The NBC report is based on a presentation entitled Psychology: A New Kind of Sigdev [signals development]. It was part of the trove of documents former NSA contractor Edward Snowden passed to journalist Glenn Greenwald, who contributed to NBC’s report.
The papers refer to the use of Splunk Dashboard to provide real-time analysis of how people use YouTube, Facebook and Blogger.
Splunk is commercially available software designed to let organisations “listen” to their own data.
Examples that GCHQ is said to have shown off include:
- a table showing how many people based in the city of Lagos looked at a specific job vacancies blog over a 24-hour period
- a graph showing how many London-based internet users “liked” links about former Defense Secretary Liam Fox on Facebook over a week-long period
- a pie chart highlighting 20 trending YouTube video tags a day before planned anti-government protests in Bahrain
Although the examples provided do not identify specific users, NBC suggests this would have been possible to do if GCHQ had access to such data.
A spokesman for Facebook added: “Network security is an important part of the way we protect user information, which is why we finished moving our site traffic to HTTPS [encryption] by default last year, implemented Perfect Forward Secrecy, and continue to strengthen all aspects of our network.”
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