back to article Brit spies want rights to wiretap and snoop on US companies' servers

The US and UK authorities are holding secret negotiations that would allow British domestic spies to tap into servers in the Land of the FreeTM when investigating Her Majesty's citizens. A draft proposal, seen by the Washington Post, would allow MI5 to get access to data stored on overseas computers run by American firms, and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I were a criminal

    If I were a criminal I'd do it right. I'd wear sharp suits, hire the best henchmen. I'd base my operations out of a hollowed out volcano lair. There would never be even the slightest piece of evidence linking me to crime

    But most of all I'd do my IT in-house. I would not trust it to the likes of Google, Facebook or Microsoft.

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: If I were a criminal

      Lairs and henchmen, so very Dr Drakken. London and New York have been set up to allow the budding criminal access to global resources in their quest for world domination. Just join one of the big banks. Training, access to resources, legal indemnity and a health plan including dental. Start off simple, say impoverishing African's by privatising and stealing their water. Finish with flourish by financing coal seam gas extraction and ruin the ground and surface water in an entire nation. Implode the global financial system and then demand the world compensate you for their losses. That is POWER!!!

      There are of course some groups that have to be paid off but those are legitimate business expenses and are tax deductible. True, housing / lairs in those cities are expensive but you can start by renting. If it is a place you like then get your bank to foreclose and bankrupt the owner. During the US mortgage backed securities fraud (GFC08) the lack of a mortgage or proof of bank ownership did not stop this process - steal away. A bit of imagination and you should be able to get the city to compensate you for any inconvenience. If not just manipulate interest rates and take it out of the margin. You want an army? For a small political donation you can have the armies of several nations at your beck and call with intelligence services that display even less morality than you do. All of the fire power with none of the operational expenses. Got a thing for girls, maybe uniforms, maybe hotel maids - can't beat the banks. Most western nations now offer servitude as a service through their political shop fronts. Sign up today and happy pillaging.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If I were a criminal

        London and New York

        You mean LondonGrad and Bodessa (which some of the locals still call Boston for some reason?)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If I were a criminal

          You mean LondonGrad and Bodessa ....

          Money laundering by a few Russian kleptocrats is the least of the US & UK problems (and probably less so than the same by Arab "royals").

          All the great (and ongoing) bank frauds were homegrown, led by American and British citizens. The failure to investigate, regulate or prosecute the banks behind the various crises, that too is all homegrown. In the US, criminal behaviour is settled by a "no wrongdoing" settlement with the SEC, in the UK the financial regulators achieve similar settlements (eg over PPI).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If I were a criminal

            Money laundering by a few Russian kleptocrats

            A few? Dude, are you sure that half of Kensington and Chelsea is a few? Yeah, I know, the other half are the Saudis so as they are not all, we can call it is a few, including the ones that sponsor _OUR_ kleptocrats. When one of them tells to the major of Londongrad: "Бориска, сука, пръгай", our best beloved Turkish quasi-buffoon will ask "How high" right away. He will definitely not be asking "why?"

            As far as Bodessa, do not get me started on Bodessa. Last time I flew on the New Ark to Bodessa United shuttle I ended up being seated in the middle seat in between two meathead enforcers/bodyguards, their boss next row ahead of me (with one more meathead enforcer and a white collar/accountant next to him). The fuckers were discussing jobs including fitting concrete shoes on of someone using standard Russian блатной code lingo which as someone who have grown up in Moscow I actually can understand without an interpreter. That was definitely not a "pleasant flight".

            I always found watching Sopranos funny - it is watching a piece of historical fiction. The Italian mafia does not exist. Even in New Jersey. The Russian "political" exiles (quotes intended) got rid of it. It is extinct.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: If I were a criminal

      ...And then blow it by posting on The Register. Nice going there, Bob. No more chocolate for YOU!

    3. Kurt Meyer
      Thumb Up

      Re: If I were a criminal

      I don't think I'd hire any henchmen.

      Pussy Galore, though...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If I were a criminal

      "And American agents would get access to UK systems"

      But they already get this via GCHQ. And Eschelon.

  2. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Wait for the firestorm.

    Americans can be surveilled six ways from Sunday by their own government and not care at all, but just the slightest whiff of a foreigner getting into their dick pics will enrage them.

    It's pub o'clock.

    1. Kurt Meyer

      Re: Wait for the firestorm.

      @NoneSuch - Re: It's pub o'clock.

      Have you started already?

      The article says:

      "secret negotiations that would allow British domestic spies to tap into servers in the Land of the Free when investigating Her Majesty's citizens."

      You say:

      "Americans can be surveilled six ways from Sunday by their own government and not care at all, but just the slightest whiff of a foreigner getting into their dick pics will enrage them."

      I am struggling to connect those two statements, your help in doing so would be appreciated.

      What about this line from the article?

      "It's a reciprocal deal, so US agents would also get access to British servers."

      Which, to me at least, makes the following seem ridiculous:

      "Britons can be surveilled six ways from Sunday by their own government and not care at all, but just the slightest whiff of a foreigner getting into their dick pics will enrage them."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How can they allow them access only for British citizens?

        Either they have access to e.g. Facebook's servers or they don't. If they do, do you trust British spooks to not gather data on American citizens just like we all would assume American spies would do on British citizens?

        As I've said before if I had to be spied upon by a government I'd rather be spied upon by the Chinese than by the US or any western government. I haven't ever been to China (unless you count pre '97 Hong Kong) and while I plan to visit someday it is likely to be a one and done. I've visited the UK many times and plan to return many more, along with other EU countries, and have to live in the US. Lot more opportunity for them to make my life hell than China who would probably simply deny me entry if their spying indicated negative things about me.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: How can they allow them access only for British citizens?

          From the article it appears the subject is wiretaps, not spying. In the US, for bot citizens and foreigners legally within the US a warrant is required to (lawfully) conduct a wiretap, and that is a matter that involves both constitutional interpretation and statutory law. To make it more complex, what is reported to be under discussion may authority granted the President under treaties. While not analogous in a real sense, it somewhat resembles the treatment accorded Kim Dotcom in the Megaupload matter.

          The US Constitution, laws, and treaties may grant the President authority to determine that UK safeguards are adequate, or they may not. Given that there are many laws and treaties, it may be uncertain. If the agreement is made, it is likely to be contested by an early target and may require possibly lengthy court proceedings to settle definitively.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Its quaint

            How you think the US government gives a shit about what the Constitution says. If you still believe that after Snowden, there's no hope for you.

  3. phil dude


    I feel sure this is forbidden by the US constitution.

    Any experts out there?


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: constitution?

      Well, according to the FISC, it's perfectly constitutional, otherwise the NSA can't serve a gag-ordered national security letter on an ISP and get away with as much data as they want (usually all). If they can do it to the citizens of this country (US), I'm pretty sure that they can let GCHQ do the same under reciprocity.

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: constitution?

      With current (dis)eminences on SCOTUS aka the Nine Seniles, anything goes if keeps shysters fully employed. "Constitution? We don't need no stinking Constitution!!"

    3. RedneckMother

      Re: constitution?

      Sorry, mate... the Constitution is on hold at the moment. Please continue to hold for the next available representative.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: constitution?

      You appear to be under the mistaken impression that the intelligence services are answerable to the law, constitution, or anybody at all.

    5. h4rm0ny

      Re: constitution?

      >>"I feel sure this is forbidden by the US constitution."

      That's kind of the point. Even with all the assaults on democracy over the past decade, there are still a number of safeguards and protections in place in the USA (and to a lesser extent the UK) against the government spying on the people. But with an arrangement like this, you can get a trusted partner to spy on your own people and the constitution doesn't say you must stop them. And then afterwards both parties just share information.

      At least that's the intent. It may be that you can get the NSA and MI5 under some law or other. Don't expect Theresa May to be very helpful, though.

  4. Daggerchild Silver badge

    Rings a bell

    Don't we already have some 'reciprocal' deals with the US, where the US gets something from the UK and in return the UK gets to ask the US to pretty please honour its side of the bargain?

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: Rings a bell

      Surely it doesn't ring any bells at all. Snowden showed that the US were reading all the traffic for the whole of Europe and not just the UK, without any agreement and certainly not anything reciprocal. Apart from getting their fingers rapped for illegally exceeding their authorised snooping on their own citizens, there is nothing to suggest that the NSA has changed their attitude to the rest of the world. I don't think the UK has a very strong bargaining position since the US attitude is that their laws apply to the whole world whereas anyone else's laws have no effect on US citizens unless they are physically in another country at the time of infringement.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Rings a bell

        NSA should be forced to use Comcast for it's internet connection. I think the datacap would shut down the snooping real fast.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rings a bell @Daggerchild

      Sorry, I will fix that for you. 'The USA can ask for and get anyone they want extradited and cut up nasty if stopped, even if the alleged offence was not an offence outside of the USA. However, anyone accused of terror offences in the UK will be protected by some political pressure group against deportation from the USA.

      That is the meaning of reciprocal in the eyes of the Land of the Slaves*.

      *See I fixed that one for free!

  5. Anonymous Coward

    "Home Secretary (the elected official in charge of the police)"

    The Home Secretary is elected to Parliament, not elected to be Home Secretary.

    Based on the last 20-30 years, the further qualifications that get you a promotion from plain ol' elected MP to appointed Home Secretary seem to be some combination of slavish devotion to your party/leadership and a moral obliviousness towards activities like drowning kittens in a vat of acid.

    1. Ian 55

      Re: "Home Secretary (the elected official in charge of the police)"

      The Home Secretary needn't even be an MP - you could have a member of the House of Lords do the job.

      1. BongoJoe

        Re: "Home Secretary (the elected official in charge of the police)"

        One doesn't even have to be in the House of Lords. In theory the Prime Minister could appoint anyone to any position of the Cabinet.

        I am not sure if there is a requirement that they even have to be British.

        1. Roj Blake

          Re: "Home Secretary (the elected official in charge of the police)"

          "One doesn't even have to be in the House of Lords. In theory the Prime Minister could appoint anyone to any position of the Cabinet.

          I am not sure if there is a requirement that they even have to be British."

          No, ministers need to have a seat in either the Commons or the Lords to put forward legislation.

          However, if the PM of the day wants you in his cabinet he can just tell Her Majesty to give you a life peerage.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Predictable outcomes of this agreement...

    Fearless prediction #1--A significant increase in telephone traffic between Cheltenham and Fort Meade, Maryland, with each additional conversation involving some variant of "Listen, we can't legally do this, but can you...?"

    (Feel free to add more predictions if you want!)

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: Predictable outcomes of this agreement...

      That is what the 5-eyes +1 alliance is all about.

  7. John H Woods

    Robust Protections?

    Do they really mean the possibility that Theresa May will say, oh, no I don't think that's justified in this instance? Because if so, maybe they'd like to buy another bridge ...

    1. RedneckMother

      Re: Robust Protections?

      Bridge? Do you refer to the one that's in Arizona?

      (with apologies to a certain Texas songwriter)

      1. Kurt Meyer
        Thumb Up

        @ RedneckMother

        "And I'll substantiate the rumor,

        That the English sense of humor,

        Is drier than the Texas' sand..."

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Shocked, Yes, Shocked I am by zzzzzzzz......


    I mean, REALLY.

    Constitutional Protections? Ha! Ha! Just that "Second Amendment Right to Mow Down Anyone, Anywhere at Anytime with Military Grade Firearms because Of Course That Makes Us Safer from, You Know, Terrorists, 'cause it's TOTALLY Different When THEY Do it. You know, Militia and all....Yeah, Something, Something, Freedom..." The rest we've pretty much dispensed with altogether.

    Oh, and if you just HAPPEN to be snooping on, say, Goldman Sachs, AIG, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and any of the rest of Wall Street, the Lobbyists of "K" Street and oh, All of Congress and notice any sneaky shenanigans, DO feel free to share it with the rest of us? Hmmmmm? We'd Appreciate that.

    We won't ask you to snoop on Trump. We wouldn't do that to ANYone. Blergh.

  9. Kurt Meyer

    US Constitutional protections and British law

    I do not see why HM spooks aren't treated the same in the US as the home grown variety, and vice versa in the UK, with regard to this issue. These are sure to be joint operations in either country. Apply to the courts for a warrant in the US, apply to the Home Secretary in the UK. Follow the respective laws and procedures of the country in which you want to conduct your operation.

    It certainly does not take months for US spooks to get the court order they request, nor I'd guess, months for HM spooks to get approval from the Home Secretary. Do what needs to be done to make this reciprocal.

    Any visitors to the US should, without question, be afforded the same constitutional rights and protections as those given to US citizens. No circumvention of these rights, by anyone, should ever be considered, let alone granted, to anyone, whether foreign or domestic.

    I am given to understand that if I visit the UK, I will be subject to British law, as well as those applicable EU laws, while enjoying the same rights and benefits as do citizens of the UK and/or the EU. If this is true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, then that is as it should be everywhere, especially in a country (the US) which purports to be a beacon of rights and freedoms for the rest of the world.

    That's enough for now, I'm off to read The Fiver, have my dinner, a wee dram (or three), and a good night's sleep. The only laws I'll pay the slightest heed to this weekend are the Laws of Football. May all your sides be Victorious!

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: US Constitutional protections and British law

      Where 's ma bucket, I need to wipe all the sarcasm which leaked out of the monitor while displaying your post. And clean the coffee out of the keyboard.

      1. Kurt Meyer

        Re: US Constitutional protections and British law

        @ Voland's right hand

        No sarcasm was intended, or implied.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's no wonder you lot are in such a rush to leave the EU with all our pesky data protection, privacy and human rights laws getting in the way of the efficient transition to police state.

  11. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "a mutual legal assistance treaty, but it's a lengthy process that can take months"

    The US's experience with Ireland should be a reminder that trying to bypass MLAs can take years. I suspect that the reality is that using MLAs takes effort; they have to actually put together a case that will convince a foreign court.

  12. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Reciprocal snooping - I thought they were doing that already?

  13. Fazal Majid

    A thin veneer of carefully parsed legality

    The way the UK spooks used to eavesdrop on Lady Diana (some of the more reactionary royalists within the establishment really had it for her) was simply to informally ask the US to do it for them. The UK spooks were not legally allowed to directly spy on her, but were allowed to receive "information sharing" from the US spooks. No doubt they return the favor.

  14. alain williams Silver badge

    Please save me from terrorists!

    This terrifies me, I worry about it, I am afraid of the spooks in the NSA & GCHQ.

    Who will save me from terrorists ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please save me from terrorists!

      According to the Government's own figures, living in the UK I am as likely to be killed by a bee as by a terrorist.

      Whilst I am expected to give up my privacy and all of my freedoms to be protected from terrorists, I don't see SAS soldiers descending from helicopters, statements by concerned senior cabinet ministers or the city I live in locked down for two days whenever a bee happens to wander into my garden.

      I really wish the Government would keep a proper sense of proportion. I am writing to the Home Secretary now demanding to know what she is doing to protect us from these miniature flying honey-crazed psychopaths.

      1. cbars

        Re: Please save me from terrorists!


        Seriously, I want to be able to point to the official figures when I make the same argument. I had a glance at the ONS but couldn't find them.

  15. noj

    "Curiously, that doesn't seem to bother the US government. "

    You mean the same US government that has total disregard for its own laws?

  16. WalterAlter


    James Bond to the white courtesy telephone...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quid pro qup

    We spy on them, they spy on us, and swap information, getting around the law against spying on one's own nationals.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Quid pro qup

      The article (like its Washington Post source) refers to negotiations that would grant UK authorities, represented by the Home Secretary and MI5, the authority to issue and execute wiretap orders against British citizens using US computing and communication facilities, with reciprocity for similar actions by the US. Such negotiations certainly do not concern spying in anything like the normal use of that word; such spying as there is between the US and UK doubtless will continue unabated and unchanged by the outcome.

      And it certainly is well within the President's authority to enter into such negotiations and propose treaty arrangements to the Senate that, if approved, would have the effect of law. Whether that would enable UK authorities to task US businesses with lawful wiretaps might have to be settled in the federal court system, and the answer could depend on whether the targeted UK citizen was lawfully in the US - i. e., a US Person, although not a citizen.

  18. Vimes

    This makes the Sheinwald report - and the efforts that they've gone to in order to withhold it - all the more interesting.

    Fobbing people off with 'have this thing we'd rather you'd see rather than what you asked for' then shrieking 'national security, national security!' when they were challenged on that point is hardly encouraging.

    There is something Monty Python-esque about the whole fiasco. The reactions given by civil servents when they talk about FoI tend to be very similar, with responses tending to follow the lines of 'help, help! I'm being repressed! Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system! Come see the violence inherent in the system!!!'

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022