In mid-2013 The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers began a series of revelations about huge programmes of electronic surveillance conducted using the latest technology by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The revelations were based on files provided by Edward Snowden, who had worked as a contractor for the Agency. It soon became clear that Britains main spy agency, GCHQ, was also operating ambitious systems of surveillance based on harvesting millions of phone and Internet records from private citizens. It also became evident that GCHQ and the NSA were cooperating closely in sharing this information, and that GCHQ was storing and analysing the harvested records. The surveillance also involved the cooperation of important private interests, notably the big Internet service providers. The implications of the revelations continue to unfold, and it is as yet unclear if surveillance on this scale is illegal in the UK. But what is clear is that it has taken place on a huge scale, was conducted in secret until the Snowden revelations, and if not illegal has at the very least involved the sophisticated circumvention of the law. One of the main themes of this chapter is the growth of codified rules governing surveillance of private citizens by both state and private organizations, and the creation of official bodies to oversee those codified rules. The Snowden revelations raise big questions, however, about the effectiveness, or even the point, of these codifications if the state can spy on citizens on such a large scale, and in secret.
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