GCHQ 'secretly tapping' Internet traffic

The government's electronic eavesdropping agency has gained secret access to fibre-optic cables carrying global Internet traffic and telephone calls, rogue US intelligence technician Ed Snowden has told The Guardian.

The newspaper said Saturday that Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has started to process vast reams of personal information and is sharing it with US partner the National Security Agency (NSA), citing documents disclosed by Snowden.

US authorities have filed espionage charges against the 30-year-old and have asked Hong Kong to detain him, a US official told AFP on Friday.

Confirming a report in The Washington Post newspaper, the official said a sealed criminal complaint has been lodged with a federal court in the US state of Virginia and a provisional arrest warrant has been issued.

Snowden, who fled to the autonomous Chinese territory in May, has since proceeded to leak details of secret US intelligence programmes to international media outlets.

GCHQ can tap into and store data from cables for up to 30 days so it can be analysed under an operation codenamed Tempora, The Guardian reported.

The agency would not comment on intelligence matters but insisted it was "scrupulous" in complying with the law.

"It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight," Snowden said.

"They (GCHQ) are worse than the US."

The Guardian claimed Tempora had been running for 18 months and GCHQ and the NSA were able to access vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people.

They can also target suspects, including their phone calls, email message content, Facebook entries and Internet browsing history, the report said.