Karma Police: UK’s GCHQ Probably Monitored You on the Internet

Newly published documents reveal that UK’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) undertook an operation titled “Karma Police”, a program set up to track the browsing habits of “every visible user on the internet.”

In a startling revelation unearthed in documents published today by the Intercept, the GCHQ stored up to 100 billion metadata records on every internet user’s online habits, tracking everything from porn websites visited to social content posted.

More than two dozen documents were disclosed by the Intercept, disclosing the sheer scope of the British intelligence agency’s surveillance capabilities.

Edward Snowden

The documents published by the Intercept were obtained from Edward Snowden.

Karma Police

British spooks or spies named the program Karma Police after reportedly being big fans of the namesake song by British band Radiohead. The program started as a snooping operation to keep track of individuals accessing online radio stations as a part of a wider project into how fundamentalist radicals could use Internet radio to spread their messages.

Through a series of tracking activities, profiles were built into making the Karma Police operation in 2007 and 2008. Analyzed data included emails, texts, calls, instant messages, geolocation data, browsing habits, social media interactions and more.

Come 2009, the spying program amassed over 1.1 trillion events. Events included web browsing sessions in its now-massive database. In 2010, the program was cataloging 30 billion records of traffic metadata per day.

By 2012, nearly 50 billion metadata records about users’ browsing activity, internet communications and more were stored, per day. The documents reveal that the GCHQ were drawing up the resources to expand their tracking abilities to store up to 100 billion metadata records per day, the same year.

Cookies were termed “presence events” by GCHQ cyber spies. They were also deemed as “target detection identifiers”. Cookies were considered to be of very high value by GCHQ analysts who used them to uncover certain identities of internet users. They were also helped to determine a person’s “pattern of life”, denoting when a user is typically online and the means through which they connect to the internet.

Popular websites were specifically targeted for the clandestine collection of cookies. They include:

  • Facebook
  • Amazon
  • YouTube
  • Reddit
  • WordPress
  • Yahoo
  • Google
  • YouPorn
  • BBC
  • CNBC
  • Reuters and many more.

The Hacked team of reporters are currently digging through the documents published. Readers can expect more reporting on the breaking story soon.

Images from Flickr and Wikipedia.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.