EU Parliament says other countries spy, but not as much as the UK or US

EU Parliament report says four out of five EU states surveyed carry out wide-scale surveillance

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  Government

The European Parliament's research department has found that four out of five member states surveyed carry out wide-scale telecommunications surveillance.

In a report released on Friday the department revealed that the U.K., France, Germany and Sweden all engaged in bulk collection of data. The Netherlands, which was also examined, has not done so, so far, but is engaged in setting up an agency for that purpose.

The report notes that although surveillance has been carried out for decades, there is no room for complacency because the amount of data currently available is so large. It says the current surveillance programs "go largely beyond what was called before targeted surveillance or a non-centralised and heterogeneous assemblage of forms of surveillance."

The U.K. leads the European surveillance field and is the only country to come close to the scale of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), the report says.

In the U.K., the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) receives approximately £1 billion (US$1.6 billion) annually and has a staff of 6,000.

"It appears unlikely that the programmes of EU member states such as Sweden, France and Germany come close to the sheer magnitude of the operations launched by GCHQ and the NSA," says the report.

Reports allege that GCHQ has placed data interceptors on approximately 200 U.K. fiber-optic cables that transmit Internet data and that by 2012 the agency was able to process data from at least 46 fiber-optic cables at any one time. This gives the agency the possibility to intercept more than 21 petabytes of data a day. This is estimated to have contributed to a 7,000 percent increase in the amount of personal data available to GCHQ from Internet and mobile traffic in the past five years.

In order to deal with this vast amount of data, GCHQ uses a system of so-called "Massive Volume Reduction," removing 30 percent of less intelligence-relevant data such as peer-to-peer downloads. The remaining data is combed using some of up to 40,000 "selectors" such as keywords, email addresses or phone numbers of targeted individuals by about 300 GCHQ and 250 NSA staff working together.

Content such as recordings of phone calls, content of email messages and entries on Facebook is kept for up to three days while metacontent such as time, date, creator and location of content is stored for up to 30 days.

In France, the DGSE (Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure) is responsible for surveillance. In 2010, Bernard Barbier, a technical director at the DGSE, said that France ranked fifth in the world in metadata collection after the U.S., the U.K., Israel and China, and runs the second most important intelligence data collection and processing center in Europe after the U.K.

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