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UK tapping Europe’s data flows is like ‘Hollywood nightmare’ – Germany

Published time: June 23, 2013 12:29
Edited time: June 25, 2013 10:48
Street artwork about the UK Government Communications Headquarters. (Photo by George Rex / flickr.com)

Street artwork about the UK Government Communications Headquarters. (Photo by George Rex / flickr.com)

The German Justice Minister has called the British spy agency’s massive eavesdropping of international fiber-optic cables 'a catastrophe'. Sabine Leuthesser-Scharrenberger insisted European institutions should seek clarification “straight away”.

The exposure by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of the global eavesdropping capabilities of the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have sent European capitals into a stupor.

Having revealed the NSA’s PRISM global surveillance program, Snowden told the UK’s Guardian newspaper information about Britain's top secret Tempora surveillance project under which the UK's GCHQ spying agency intercepts and stores for 30 days huge volumes of data, like emails, social network posts, phone calls and much more, culled from international fiber-optic cables.

The most vociferous reaction has come from Berlin where politicians have demanded a thorough investigation of the activities of the British intelligence-gathering community. 

“If these accusations are correct, this would be a catastrophe,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in an email to the Reuters. She compared the news with a “Hollywood nightmare” and called on to the European institutions “to seek straight away to clarify the situation.”

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (AFP Photo / Guenter Schiffmann)

“The accusations make it sound as if George Orwell's surveillance society has become reality in Great Britain," Thomas Oppermann, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats in the Bundestag told Reuters. German politicians called the situation ‘unbearable’ and demanded the government “act against a total surveillance of German citizens”.

A report in Britain's Guardian newspaper has exposed that UK’s GCHQ has been spying on European capitals for at least 18 months intercepting data from over 200 fiber-optic cables.

Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham (Reuters)

Begun in 2008, by 2010 the Tempora project made GCHQ a true intelligence superpower, “’the biggest internet access’ of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand,” The Guardian’s report claims.

By the end of 2012 the GCHQ agency reportedly had enough computational capacity to process information from 46 fibre-optic cables at a time, which amounted to 600 million international phone calls and internet messages daily.

While it was reported earlier that NSA shared classified information obtained through its tapping of the world’s largest internet providers with GCHQ, it became known that these were tit for tat relations and GCHQ shared the info it obtained with the NSA, too. The Guardian believes that the 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors, like Edward Snowden, had access to GCHQ databases.

“The UK has a huge dog in this fight," Snowden confirmed to the Guardian. “They [GCHQ] are worse than the US,” he stressed.