Britain’s anti-spy agency is to snoop through office emails in a bid to preempt disgruntled employees threatening the nation’s security by going rogue.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has turned its attention to ‘insider’ threats within companies – meaning staff gossip and gripes could now be checked for hidden agendas.
The shocking revelation means unusual language or uncharacteristic tones adopted in emails to colleagues could be interpreted as sign that the sender is undermining the UK’s security.
GCHQ, the British intelligence organisation which unmasks spies, is sponsoring research at Lancaster University using ‘behavioural analysis’ to identify rogue employees, The Sunday Times reports.
The university is currently advertising the three and a half year PhD post financed by GCHQ – and paying £22,000 a year.
The university said: ‘The research will investigate the use of techniques from the field of natural language processing to detect the early indicators of an insider threat within an organisation’s unstructured internal data.’
This means that the person they hire will study email correspondences among employees who have become disgruntled and who may have an axe to grind.
Paul Taylor, professor of psychology at the university, said: ‘Instead of ending their email with ‘see ya!’ they might suddenly offer you ‘kind regards’.
‘These changes are important and could hint at a disgruntled employee about to go rogue.’
The university say they will be using advanced techniques to predict anomalous behavior among staff.
The aim is to prevent a recurrence of spies such as Guy Burgess and Kim Philby – who were insiders whose behaviour became noticeably out of character.
The revelation comes shortly after a judgement which ruled that GCHQ’s mass surveillance programmes were found to be lawful – despite protests from privacy campaigners.
Human rights groups Liberty, Privacy International and Amnesty brought a legal challenge against GCHQ following disclosures made by American NSA (National Security Agency) whistleblower Edward Snowden about mass surveillance programmes known as Prism and Tempora.
They argued that GCHQ’s methods breached article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to privacy, as well as article 10, which protects freedom of expression.
In a written judgment, a panel of IPT judges said: ‘We have been able to satisfy ourselves that as of today there is no contravention of articles 8 and 10 by reference to those systems.
‘We have left open for further argument the question as to whether prior hereto there has been a breach.’
Amnesty immediately said it would appeal the decision at the European Court of Human Rights – there is no domestic right of appeal.
Amnesty UK’s legal advisor, Rachel Logan, said: ‘The Government’s entire defence has amounted to ‘trust us’ and now the tribunal has said the same.
‘Since we only know about the scale of such surveillance thanks to Snowden, and given that ‘national security’ has been recklessly bandied around, ‘trust us’ isn’t enough.
‘We will now appeal to Strasbourg, who might not be as inclined to put their trust in the UK Government given what we know so far.’
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, which also intends to appeal to the ECHR, said: ‘So a secretive court thinks that secret safeguards shown to it in secret are an adequate protection of our privacy.
‘The IPT cannot grasp why so many of us are deeply troubled about GCHQ’s Tempora operation – a seemingly unfettered power to rifle through our online communications.’
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