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Easy guide to mass surveillance

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 11:47
    Photo Credit: 
    A man stands in Grand Central Terminal NYC © REUTERS/Zoran Milich

    Your two-minute #UnfollowMe guide to how our governments are collecting and monitoring all our private data. (With thanks to Privacy International.)

    What is surveillance?
    Surveillance is the monitoring of a person’s communications, actions or movements.

    When is surveillance legal?
    Broadly, when it is necessary, targeted, based on sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, and authorised by a strictly independent authority, such as a judge.

    What is mass surveillance?
    Indiscriminate mass surveillance is the monitoring of internet and phone communications of large numbers of people – sometimes entire countries – without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

    Can mass surveillance ever be legal?
    Governments can legalise mass surveillance in their own country, but that would completely contradict the international laws that most nations have signed up to.

    Who are the ‘five eyes’?
    The five eyes refers to an intelligence-sharing alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and USA.

    What is GCHQ?
    Government Communications Headquarters is the security agency responsible for providing communications intelligence to the UK government.

    What is the NSA?
    The National Security Agency is responsible for collecting and analysing intelligence information and data in the USA.

    Are governments spying on me?
    If you use the internet or a mobile phone, the answer is probably ‘yes’. Secret government surveillance Programmes like Prism and Upstream (run by the NSA) and Tempora (run by GCHQ) are believed to spy on you both by obtaining data from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other major Internet companies, and by directly tapping into fibre-optic cables that carry global internet communications. The breathtaking scope of these programmes and the way in which global electronic communications are routed mean that people in nearly every country on earth can be spied on.

    What data are they collecting?
    The NSA and GCHQ have powerful surveillance programs that store and analyse people’s browser history, internet searches, emails, instant messages, webcam conversations and phone calls. They also collect metadata, or ‘data about data’, which includes email recipients, call times and location records.

    What happens to my data?
    It’s stored in large data centres where it can be searched and analysed by computer algorithms. Data collected by the NSA and GCHQ is also made available to officers of the other ‘five eyes’ security agencies through powerful databases such as XKeyscore. Intelligence agencies in 41 countries have different levels of access to the data.

    How does mass surveillance affect our human rights?
    It’s a serious violation of our privacy. It also restricts free speech, as people may be less willing to communicate freely if they know they are being monitored. 

    LEARN MORE: check out our page on Mass Surveillance