Next time your sending a text to a friend, consider that the might not be the only person to read it, as government agencies are also reading.
All four British mobile phone networks are to ask the government to explain how spy agencies have been able to tap into a secret US database to trawl through the text message of UK citizens without their knowledge.
In the first sign of a push back by the British telecoms industry against the mass surveillance of their customers, as exposed by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, BT’s chief executive also waded into the debate, describing the laws on data collection as not fit for purpose.
Three, which has nearly 8 million customers, on Wednesday joined Vodafone, O2 and EE in demanding answers from the government on how spies are apparently able to get around UK laws by using the Dishfire database operated by the NSA, which has collected almost 200m text messages a day from across the globe.
A spokesman for Three said: “We take our customers’ privacy seriously. We are seeking clarity from the authorities following the reports of Dishfire activity.”
Mobile phone operators are required by law to hand over customer data on a case-by-case basis where specific individuals are being targeted, but Dishfire is understood to have collected information on citizens indiscriminately, sharing data on customer location, border crossings, banking details and travel plans.
Documents dating from 2011 reveal how UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search “untargeted and unwarranted” communications involving British mobile phone customers.
In a statement, the second largest network, O2, which has 23 million subscribers, told the Guardian it would raise the issue with GCHQ. It said: “We are in the process of writing to the GCHQ to understand these allegations further. Once we hear back we’ll be in a better position to understand our next steps.”
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