LONDON (AP) — British spies are acting within the law when they access data gathered by the National Security Agency's recently exposed PRISM program, a parliamentary committee said Wednesday.
Britain's Intelligence and Security Committee said the PRISM program, revealed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is "specific and targeted." There is nothing to suggest that Britain's eavesdropping agency GCHQ — the Government Communications Headquarters — is using it to get around restrictions on domestic espionage, the panel said.
"It has been alleged that GCHQ circumvented U.K. law by using the NSA's PRISM program to access the content of private communications," the committee said in a three-page statement posted to its website. "From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded."
The mechanics of PRISM are still little-understood, but initial reports described it as being able to pull private data directly from the servers of Silicon Valley's biggest firms. That set off a global debate over the explosion of surveillance in the digital age and the role of the United States as the lynchpin of the online economy.
The companies involved have since denied offering the NSA wholesale access to their data, but the revelation that GCHQ also uses PRISM sparked concern in Britain that the privileged access to U.S. companies had been used to leapfrog U.K. law.
The Intelligence Committee said it had received detailed evidence from GCHQ about PRISM, including a list of counterterrorism operations for which GCHQ had drawn on U.S. intelligence, a list of all U.K. individuals monitored through the program, and an undisclosed number of intelligence reports which drew on PRISM data. Lawmakers said that they had also discussed the program with its U.S. congressional counterpart and with the NSA.
The committee, chaired by former Conservative minister Malcolm Rifkind, said it was satisfied that GCHQ was operating within proper bounds and that ministers had properly signed off on any spying.