Home / / British spy agency taps social sites: report

British spy agency taps social sites: report

Snowden papers reveal GCHQ monitored YouTube, Facebook, Twitter

GCHQ used YouTube data to predict public demonstrations in Bahrain.
GCHQ used YouTube data to predict public demonstrations in Bahrain.

Britain's GCHQ tapped into social media sites via optic-fibre backbones to monitor unencrypted YouTube views, Facebook likes, Twitter trends and even user blog posts, according to the latest leak from Edward Snowden documents.

Former NSA contractor Snowden downloaded material from NSA servers in Hawaii last summer, before boarding a plane for Hong Kong. The files included information on British intelligence agencies' operations that had been shared with their American allies, including the monitoring of world leaders at a London-hosted G20 summit through corruption of Internet hotspots.

The latest GCHQ file is a presentation titled "Psychology A New Kind of SIGDEV" (signals development) and is said to be part of a project called "Squeaky Dolphin". British agents were, for example, able to use YouTube-monitoring tools to watch for viral material, thereby anticipating public protests, a technique that has reportedly worked well in Bahrain.

When the Arab Spring unfolded, Western powers were caught off guard, in the absence of a monitoring programme with the scale of Squeaky Dolphin. According to a report from TechRadar, the project allowed GCHQ to flag two past Bahrain protest videos as having gone viral once more on 13 February, 2012, allowing analysts to predict anti-government protests that occurred the day after.

TechRadar also reported that Facebook and Twitter have since introduced encryption that blocks the tapping of its data. However, Google has yet to encrypt YouTube and blog data.