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Digital surveillance programs in other countries trigger controversy

IDG News Service staff | June 17, 2013
Details about surveillance programs in the UK, Germany and India are sketchy, but the US is not alone in electronic data collection

Last week's disclosure of massive data collection efforts at the U.S. National Security Agency has generated heated debate in the U.S. and across the world about privacy. The NSA is collecting metadata on U.S. residents' phone calls made on Verizon's network and Internet records from nine Web companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, according to reports in the Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers.

But intelligence agencies in other countries have similar goals, according to reports, and in some cases there are few details about what data these governments are collecting.

Leaks about the NSA program by former contractor Edward Snowden have led to questions in the U.K. about the data that intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is collecting. Facing questions about GCHQ's access to Internet data collected through the NSA's Prism program, Prime Minister David Cameron defended U.K. intelligence services and said they comply with the law.

"Let us be clear," Cameron said in a Guardian article. "We cannot give a running commentary on the intelligence services. I am satisfied that the intelligence services, who do a fantastically important job to keep us safe, operate within the law and within a legal framework and they also operate within a proper framework of scrutiny by the intelligence and security committee."

Cameron provided few details but mentioned the role intelligence gathering plays in security efforts. "We do live in a dangerous world and live in a world of terror and terrorism," he said. "I do think it is right we have well-funded and well-organized intelligence services to keep us safe."

The Germans, too, have a secret program called Strategic Communications Intelligence (Strategische Fernmeldeaufklärung), supervised by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), according to a government response to an inquiry about the program published in 2012.

The program is used to sift trough digital communication using search terms. However, details of the technical capabilities of the BND were not published because they are secret, the document said.

The aim of the program, similar to Prism, is to examine global telecommunications, and German domestic situations aren't covered, reported Germany's Computerwoche.

The BND does not possess the means and knowledge of its U.S. counterparts, reported German national newspaper Die Zeit on Thursday. German intelligence authorities are envious of the U.S. capabilities, interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said, according to Die Zeit.

The Netherlands
The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst or AIVD), has access to Prism data, Dutch national newspaper De Telegraaf reported on Tuesday, citing an anonymous AIVD agent.

There are more Prism-like programs active in the Netherlands, the source told the newspaper.


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