The most interesting section of the BBC Radio 4 documentary, by the BBC's Security Correspondent Gordon Corera, entitled GCHQ: Cracking the Code is the couple of minutes almost at the end of the 40 minute programme.
N.B. a hat tip to the professional GCHQ audio transcribers - even this short section from BBC broadcast quality sound, required multiple repeat playbacks of certain sections. Their transcriptions of much poorer quality sounds, must be a lot harder and even more error prone.
This is what is expected under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part 1 Interception of communications.
(start at about 34 minutes into the programme)
Gordon Corera (GC):
Out in Afghanistan, it may be clear who the enemy is, but in the vast swamp of global communications, and with all the supercomputers whirring away in the basement, how can we be sure that GCHQ, isn't listening to us ? Director Iain Lobban: - People out here might think, you can "hoover up" everything, all the communications data, that you are listening to everything, that you are capable of intercepting anything, that you've got huge databases, collecting all of our communications information.
Can you ? Do you ? Will You ?
Iain Lobban (IL): errm no. So can we listen to everything - no we can't
Do we try to listen to everything - no we don't
There's a vast amount of communication out there.
Our approach, is to be as surgical as possible.
So we're looking for that tiny, tiny proportion of communications, globally, that is of interest to us.
And how do we measure that ? How do we check ourselves ?
We operate according to 3 very strict principles.
First of all, is our activity Authorised ? Normally that is a Warrant, some sort of authorisation signed by a Secretary of State.
The second one is, is what we have done necessary ? Does it meet those purposes of national security, the prevention or detection of serious crime, or the economic well being of the UK ?
And then finally, is it proportionate ? Is the action that we are taking, sufficient to justify the potential intrusion around privacy ?
GC: there have been reports that you are building some super huge database, down in the basement here, to collect all the Communications Data.and that you'll have access to, everyone's phone records, email records.
Is that true ?
IC: No it is not true.
GC: No such database ? No such access ?
IC: There's no such database, there's no such access, and it would be impossible, anyway, in my view, my view so.
Gordon Corera was being very clear and specific in using the term "Communications Data" and mentioning phone records and email records.
Note to the Home Office - your plan, mooted by the disgraced former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, for a vast expansion of mandatory Communications Data Retention under the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) plan, "would be impossible", according to the Director of GCHQ.
GC: What do you hear, there is lots of speculation about things called Echelon, and systems, for being able to listen to, all kinds of private communications, around the world.
IC: Yes, I read about some of these in books. I particularly like the one which says anytime anyone says the word "bomb" in a conversation, that tapes start whirring, and an individual is GeoLocated. It's simply not like that. It's just not like that.
So what we aim to do, is focus down on, known targets, or try to establish new, unknown, intelligence targets. And then restrict, as closely as possible, focus, as surgically as possible, on that individual's communications.
GC: Rather than "hoover up" everything,
IL: Hoover up
GC: and then look through it, in a database
IL: "Hoover up". "Hoover up" is not a concept that we would be physically capable of doing, or legally capable of doing.
Are GCHQ's official statements any more or less trustworthy, than the anonymous briefings from Whitehall or from MI5 the Security Service, or from MI6 the Security Service, to favoured mainstream media reporters ?
What are the chances of innocent people's private data being "collateral damaged" as part of an ongoing GCHQ investigation ?
Where is the necessary system of generous financial compensation and mandatory, swift, prominent public apologies and the punishment of malevolent or overzealous bureaucrats, to redress such wrongs ?