Published Sep 25, 2015Radiohead's classic OK Computer anthem "Karma Police" seems to have come true in a far more literal way than the band could have ever imagined. A new report has revealed that the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has an electronic surveillance system code-named KARMA POLICE.
This is according to the Intercept, which reports that the program was designed to capture the online activities of "every visible user on the internet," including people's website visits, social media activity, Google searches, radio-listening habits and more. There are apparently programs to examine email activities, Skype calls, text messages and cellphone locations.
Intercept notes that, while it's unclear exactly why the GCHQ called the program KARMA POLICE, it presumably comes from Radiohead's 1997 song of the same name. It's an appropriate choice, given that the song is about arresting people and includes the chorus lyric "This is what you'll get when you mess with us." Then again, it's possible that the folks at the GCHQ don't understand the song's irony, given that it's a paranoid critique of social conformity.
KARMA POLICE collects metadata, meaning that it can determine the senders and recipients of a phone call or email, but not the content of the messages. Browsing history is attached to a user's IP address. The goal of the system was to great a profile for every visible user on the internet, British or otherwise. Trillions of metadata records were kept, many of them in a storage repository called the Black Hole. (A separate system called MUTANT BROTH goes through the data held in the Black Hole.)
KARMA POLICE was launched by UK spies around seven years ago, and the Intercept acquired these documents thanks to famed American whistleblower Edward Snowden. While people already knew that the British government could monitor internet activities, it was apparently unclear what happened to all of the metadata after it had been collected.
Read the Intercept's article here. The leaked documents can be seen here.