The British “Big Brother” national database feared by many members of parliament (MPs) was built and grown over the past ten years – without their knowledge. The database system even has a name for the most invasive and intrusive element: a national phone and Internet tapping center known as PRESTON.
PRESTON gathers about four million intercepted phone calls annually. And, according to disclosures made by the infamous Edward Snowden, the system is now also used to surreptitiously plant malware on iPhones. The phones were targeted for implants (malware) by the U.K.’s Security Service, MI5, which were authorized by a ministerial warrant.
The previously undisclosed location of PRESTON was revealed to be housed inside the Security Service, MI5 headquarters in Thames House in London. PRESTON works with massive databases filled with Internet use records, telephone call records, financial, travel and other personal records stored with the National Technical Assistance Center (NTAC). The relatively-unknown NTAC was set up by Tony Blair’s administration in 1999 in order to fight encryption and to provide a centralized location for codebreaking and Internet surveillance.
Soon after the NTAC was formed, the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee was told that spy agencies would pay for NTAC as “a twenty-four hour center operated on behalf of all the law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies, providing a central facility for the complex processing needed to derive intelligence material from lawfully intercepted computer-to-computer communications and from lawfully seized computer data … The NTAC will also support the technical infrastructure for the lawful interception of communications services including Internet Services.”
A technical plan was then established to create a network of interception for the nation’s Internet.
In 2002, it was announced by the Home Office that NTAC would remain in existence to continue to support law enforcement in gathering a comprehensive flow of evidence and intelligence. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, concerns regarding NTAC’s full capabilities were forgotten – until Edward Snowden disclosed what he knew.