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UK citizens' data pilfered under US-run Prism program

Brits may have had our personal info plundered along with US citizens, thanks to GCHQ's involvement in Prism.

It's not just US citizens who have had their personal information nabbed without their knowledge under the Prism program -- it seems Brits may have too.

The Guardian reports that GCHQ -- the UK's electronic eavesdropping and security agency -- has been having our data away on the sly since 2010. The Cheltenham-based agency has allegedly been bypassing the usual legal process needed to garner personal info like emails, photos and videos. No wonder Tim Berners-Lee is worried.

Prism is the US-run program that supposedly let the NSA (National Security Agency) harvest citizens' personal info through the biggest tech companies around. Exactly what happened is in doubt. The major companies are denying all knowledge. One source told our colleagues at CNET in the US that the Guardian misunderstood it all, and that Prism is merely "a very formalised legal process that companies are obliged to do."

How the companies phrased their denials is interesting, though. All said the government didn't have "direct access" to their servers, hinting maybe it got in via more roundabout methods. One surveillance scheme did nab a load of customer info from US network Verizon, too.

And Prism definitely exists. US president Barack Obama even confirmed it.

GCHQ reportedly generated 197 intelligence reports from Prism in the year to May 2012. This is a big increase on the year before. Usually, GCHQ would have to apply through the US department of justice. Under Prism, it could leapfrog the whole rigamorale.

Quizzed on the issue, GCHQ told the Guardian that it "takes its obligations under the law very seriously. Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the intelligence and security committee."

When pressed, a spokesperson added, "we do not comment on intelligence matters."

What do you think? Are you worried the government is snooping on you? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Image credit: GCHQ