Britain’s central intelligence and security agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) tapped the emails of journalists from some of the largest media organisations in the world, according to confidential files distributed by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Emails from journalists and editors at newspapers and broadcasters such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Le Monde, BBC and NBC, were saved by GCHQ as part of a test exercise and shared on the body’s internal intranet.
According to a report in The Guardian, the communications of journalists and editors were among 70,000 emails intercepted in less than 10 minutes on a day in November 2008. GCHQ acquired the emails by tapping fibre-optic cables used to exchange and transmit information on the internet.
Although there is nothing to indicate that journalists were specifically targeted in the tap, The Guardian report revealed that documents show that a GCHQ information security assessment had “investigative journalists” listed as a threat, alongside terrorists and hackers.
The document, which was meant for army intelligence, stated that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security”.
It continued: “Of specific concern are ‘investigative journalists’ who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.
“All classes of journalists and reporters may try either a formal approach or an informal approach, possibly with off-duty personnel, in their attempts to gain official information to which they are not entitled.”
A letter signed by more than 100 editors and co-ordinated by The Society of Editors and Press Gazette, has been sent to British Prime Minister David Cameron, protesting police spying on journalists.
The letter calls on Mr Cameron to consider changes to home secretary Theresa May’s draft code of practice, which aims to answer concerns over the police use of surveillance powers provided under Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
In the letter, the editors say that the draft code “appears to do very little” to stop a repeat of such abuse of the Act.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has given security services and police the ability to investigate UK phone records without the permission of a judge. However permission must be obtained from a staff member at their organisation that is not involved in the investigation.
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