ICO To Investigate The Impact Of Snowden Revelations On Privacy

Christopher Graham wants to know if the NSA really had access to encrypted bank data

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is set to launch an investigation into possible breaches of UK citizens’ privacy alleged in the documents supplied by Edward Snowden over the last four months.

Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, made headlines across the world when he revealed the existence of several highly intrusive electronic surveillance projects run by the US government and its allies, including PRISM and XKeyscore.

According to the Guardian, the investigation will focus on the ability of the NSA and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to crack popular encryption methods, including those used in banking.

It was announced by information commissioner Christopher Graham at a privacy conference in Berlin on Thursday.


Privacy crisis

Earlier this week, a new set of Snowden documents published in Der Spiegel revealed that the NSA is monitoring international bank transfers and credit card transactions, including those managed by Visa. The German magazine said the spying is conducted by a branch called ‘Follow the Money’ (FTM), which then transfers data to ‘Tracfin’ – the NSA’s financial information database that had contained over 180 million records by 2011.

The SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network, used by banks for international transactions, was identified as one of the “targets” for FTM operations. The revelations have angered European politicians, with some calling for the suspension of the SWIFT deal between EU and the US.

Now, a panel of academics and industry experts set up by the ICO will investigate privacy issues that could arise from such surveillance techniques.

“The panel will be looking into the issues related to encryption, as well as other technology issues related to our work,” said a spokesman for the media and communications watchdog.

Other aspects of the NSA and GCHQ work are already being investigated by the surveillance commissioner and the interception of communications commissioner. Meanwhile, Parliament’s intelligence and security committee is looking at the wider picture, and is set to decide whether UK’s surveillance practices should be changed in the wake of the spying scandal.

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