Open information - Open Internet

The UK has revealed how its legal framework allows the mass interception of communications as revealed by US whistleblower Edward Snowden in his leaks about global government surveillance.

The former National Security Agency contractor revealed extensive details of internet and phone snooping and has since fled the US and sought temporary asylum in Russia.

Charles Farr, director general of the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism is quoted as saying that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and web searches on Google - as well as webmail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo - are classified as "external communications", which means that they can be intercepted without the need for additional legal clearance.

The internal communications between citizens can only be intercepted when a targeted warrant is issued. Warrants must be signed by a minister and can only be issued when there is suspicion of illegal activity.

But when someone searches for something on Google or posts on Facebook they are sending information overseas - constituting an act of external communication which could be collected under a broader warrant which does not need to be signed by a minister, explained Mr Farr..