Privacy International has filed a lawsuit against US government agencies
By Matt Burgess Thursday 6 July 2017
The Five Eyes surveillance cabal, established at the end of World War 2, includes the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The agreement covers how intelligence is shared. And that’s about all we know about it.
But that could be about to change.
The US government is being sued for information about the deal, officially known as the United Kingdom-United States Communications Intelligence Agreement. UK-based charity Privacy International has filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the State Department and the National Archives and Records Administration, which all hold information about the intelligence sharing partnership.
The lawsuit follows requests for details about the partnership under the US Freedom of Information Act. All the government agencies rejected the requests.
The Five Eyes group has existed since 1946 and the last document officially published about it comes from 1955. Since then, vast technological changes have altered how national security bodies collect and store information.
“We hope to find out the current scope and nature of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement – and how much has changed since the 1955 version,” Privacy International legal officer Scarlet Kim tells WIRED. “We’d also like to know the US rules and regulations governing this exchange of information – what safeguards and oversight, if any, exist with respect to these activities?”
The complaint, says Privacy International wants to access the current text of the agreement, how the US government implements it, and the procedures for how intelligence is shared. “These records are of paramount concern because the public lacks even basic information about the Five Eyes alliance,” the document says.
The campaign group argues that because the public doesn’t have enough information about Five Eyes, it is impossible to know if there is a “legal basis” for exchanging signals intelligence. “We are eager to know whether the US shares information not only about Americans but also about Five Eyes citizens and residents with its Five Eyes partners –
and whether it undertakes any sort of due diligence before it shares this information,” Kim says.
The lawsuit will take a long time to progress through the US legal system but if it is successful could reveal previously private information. Seven years ago, the 1946 agreement between the UK and US, which was superseded by the 1955 document, was acknowledged and released for the first time in the UK. Documents published by the National Archives revealed the basis for the co-operation between the countries.
The last light shed on the Five Eyes network came after 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden published thousands of documents from inside the intelligence agency.
“The Snowden disclosures gave us a glimpse into how the change in technical capabilities has transformed the work the 5 Eyes countries do together,” Kim explains. “For example, we know that the NSA and GCHQ have worked together to obtain the contact lists and address books from hundreds of millions of personal email and IM accounts as well as webcam images from video chats of millions of Yahoo users”.
Among many of the practices and capabilities revealed by Snowden surrounding the global intelligence picture, was a glimpse at what is shared with members of Five Eyes. In 2015 it was said New Zealand conducted mass surveillance against its Pacific neighbours, including gathering calls, emails, and social media messages.
The documents also revealed New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau passed gathered intelligence to the partners within Five Eyes.