You've got to hand it to the publisher and editors at The Guardian. Despite the fact that both the US and British governments are none too pleased with their exposes about the NSA and GCHQ, they keep publishing them. On Friday, they dropped another bombshell.
Britain's spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).
The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgment or debate.
One key innovation has been GCHQ's ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.
GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.
This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user's access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.
The existence of the programme has been disclosed in documents shown to the Guardian by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his attempt to expose what he has called "the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history".
You see how this is set up? Though the two national spy agencies are working together and sharing information, each can go testify before their country's legislative bodies and deny certain aspects of these programs because, technically, it's the other guys who have the chief responsibility for x or y.
For example, President Obama can tell the American people with a straight face that "we" are not listening in to your telephone conversations. GCHQ might be, but "we" aren't. Of course, this does not mean that the NSA cannot access the information contained in our telephone conversations -- they damn well can and do. It simply means that the original intercept of those conversations is being done by the Brits.
And how many phone conversations are the Brits intercepting? Oh, something like 600 million per day! They have to do this because, as everybody knows, there are at least 600 million potential terrorists and we certainly don't want one to slip by!
So, there you have it. The two nations who hold themselves up high as the beacons of democracy and freedom have been secretly denying democracy and freedom to their own citizens as well as almost everyone else in the world. That's just peachy, ain't it?