The National Security Agency might not have only collected personal information belonging to millions of Americans. It may very well have shared it too – with at least one foreign government.
A report released yesterday by the U.K.-based human rights organization Liberty reveals Britain's intelligence agencies can access information which the NSA has already collected whenever and wherever it wants – and without a warrant.
"...[T]he British intelligence agencies can trawl through foreign intelligence material without meaningful restrictions and can keep such material, which includes both communications content and metadata, for up to two years," according to Liberty.
Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, was forced through legal proceedings to reveal its own surveillance practices in the wake of former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden's NSA bombshell. Details of GCHQ's disclosures revealed that British intelligence agencies don't have to get a warrant from the secretary of state before accessing bulk data collected from U.S. cables or through U.S. corporate partnerships.
"This position seems to conflict with reassurances by the [British] Intelligence Services Committee in July 2013 that whenever GCHQ seeks information from the U.S. a warrant is in place," the report states.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a debate in Britain's parliament in London, Thursday August 29, 2013. (AP Photo/PA)
These "arrangements," as the British government calls them, highlight the "minimal safeguards and weak restrictions" on raw intelligence sharing with foreign governments, including between the UK and the United States, Liberty reported, acknowledging a "clear risk" that agencies can sidestep legal restrictions in Britain to acquire large quantities of foreign data simply because it would "not be technically feasible" to obtain a warrant.
Regarding this most recent revelation, the NSA stopped short of denying such practices in a statement provided to TheBlaze on Wednesday.
"NSA works with a number of partners in the course of its authorized foreign intelligence mission. Whenever NSA shares intelligence information, we comply with all applicable U.S. laws and policies, including rules designed to safeguard U.S. Person information," NSA spokeswoman Vanee' Vines said in an email.
Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union said the news of such practices underscores the need for reform to existing government oversight structures.
“Mass-surveillance programs operated by the U.S. and the U.K. pose a profound threat to fundamental democratic freedoms, including the right to privacy and the freedoms of speech and association. The ‘arrangement’ disclosed yesterday suggests that the two countries are circumventing even the very weak safeguards that have been put in place," Jaffer said.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include a comment from the ACLU.
Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter