Spying on innocent British citizens by US intelligence was allowed by Tony Blair’s government - and still goes on

Leaked documents reveal a practice called 'contact chaining' was used to monitor British citizens with only a tangential link with a terrorist suspect

Tony Blair’s government gave America permission to store and analyse the email, mobile phone and internet records of potentially millions of innocent Britons. At the same time US security officials drew up plans to spy on British citizens unilaterally, without the knowledge of the UK government.

The revelations have emerged in leaked documents obtained by the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden. 

The documents reveal that in 2004 the UK allowed the US to store and target any UK landline numbers of people linked to a suspected person. In 2007 this was expanded to include mobiles, faxes, email and IP addresses. The deal meant that British citizens could be spied on even if they only had a tangential link with a terrorist suspect. US intelligence uses a practice called “contact chaining” – gathering data not just on surveillance target, but that of their friends and their friends, too. There is no evidence that the practice has been discontinued.

The documents, which have been seen by Channel 4 News and The Guardian, confirm for the first time that the American intelligence is able to spy on UK citizens who are not terror suspects. One, a January 2005 draft memo, was split into two different versions: one for sharing with US “five eyes” allies, including Britain, and one for US intelligence eyes only.

The version shared with Britain said the US could spy on British citizens “with the full knowledge and cooperation” of our government, and when it was “in the interests of both nations”.

But the version given to US intelligence staff said it “may be advisable and allowable to target… unilaterally when it is in the best interests of the US and necessary for US national security”. The memo makes clear the results would remain “NOFORN” – not for release even to British intelligence.

Another memo from 2007 sets out in more detail what kind of surveillance the NSA could and could not do.

It shows the NSA was still barred from making any UK citizen a target of surveillance that would look at the content of their communications without getting a warrant.

However, they were “authorised to unmask UK contact identifiers resulting from incidental collection”, “utilise the UK contact identifiers in Sigint development contact chaining analysis” and “retain unminimised UK contact identifiers incidentally collected under this authority within content and metadata stores”.

The document does not say whether the UK Liaison Office, which is operated by GCHQ, discussed this rule change with ministers in London before granting approval, nor who within the intelligence agencies would have been responsible for the decision.

A spokeswoman for the NSA declined to answer questions on whether the draft directive had been implemented and, if so, when. GCHQ also refused to comment.

The British Foreign Secretary in 2005 was Jack Straw, and in 2007 it was Margaret Beckett. When Channel 4 and The Guardian approached both to ask if they knew about or sanctioned a change in policy, they declined to comment.

France, Germany and Spain have all recently summoned their respective US ambassadors to discuss surveillance within their borders, while this month the UK ambassador to Germany was invited to discuss alleged eavesdropping from the UK embassy in Berlin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee