NSA leaks: British spies were given access to US 'Dishfire' system that reads hundreds of millions of texts from around the world

The NSA has to delete innocent texts involving Americans from the system but there is no requirement to do so for foreign phone numbers

A secret US system called Dishfire can read hundreds of millions of text messages from around the world, according to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The program enables US spies to intercept messages sent between countries, welcome messages sent to people when they arrive in a different country, text-based financial transactions, missed-call alerts and business cards, The Guardian and Channel 4 News reported.

UK spy agency GCHQ has reportedly been given full access to the information, raising concern that British privacy laws are being circumvented.

The NSA has to delete innocent texts involving Americans from the system but there is no requirement to do so for foreign phone numbers.

Mobile phone company Vodafone said it was concerned by the revelations and planned to raise the matter with the British Government.

A leaked GCHQ memo spelled out Dishfire was useful because it trawled through text messages without targeting suspected terrorists, for instance. Under UK law, intelligence agencies are supposed to seek permission from the Secretary of State to read an individual's text messages.

“In contrast to GCHQ equivalents, DISHFIRE contains a large volume of unselected  SMS traffic,” it states.

“This makes it particularly useful for the development of new targets, since it is possible to examine the content of messages sent months or even years before the target was known to be of interest.”

Former Interception Commissioner Sir Swinton Thomas said the allegations were “a worry”.

“Certainly in my time I would take the view that it was not open to our intelligence services to obtain or certainly to use communications or data which would not be lawful in this country,” he told Channel 4 News.

Sir Swinton said use of such information was similar to using evidence obtained under torture in a foreign country. This was a “different area of course, but the concept is very similar”, he added.

And Stephen Deadman, group privacy officer at Vodafone Group, said the allegations sounded “concerning” because they suggested that British law had been “circumvented”.

“For us as a business this is anathema because our whole business is founded on protecting privacy as a fundamental imperative,” he said.

“We're going to be contacting the Government and are going to be challenging them on this. From our perspective, the law is there to protect our customers and it doesn't sound as if that is what is necessarily happening.”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, told i they would investigate the allegations.

“We always investigate these matters. The starting point is to ask the agency to respond to us. They have to do so by law. You can be confident we'll get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Sir Malcolm said the suggestion that GCHQ was circumventing UK law by getting intelligence about British people from the NSA had been made before by The Guardian.

He said his committee's investigation into those allegations — relating to another system called Prism — found that GCHQ “already had authority from the relevant Secretary of State” to obtain the information about the individuals concerned.

The Guardian has form in this matter,” Sir Malcolm said, adding that he was not commenting on the quality of the current allegations.

In a statement, an NSA spokeswoman said: “As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA's collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.

“NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against - and only against - valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.

“NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.”

GCHQ said that all of its work was “carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate”.

It said there was “rigorous oversight” by the Secretary of State, current interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Intelligence and Security Committee.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

    £30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Developer

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

    Associate Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

    Associate Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busine...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn