British Channel Islands being used as ‘offshore global spy center’ study finds

Cell Phone - IATHE CHANNEL ISLANDS, AN archipelago consisting of dependencies of the British Crown located off the northern coast of France, are being used as an offshore global spy center due to their unregulated telecommunications industry, according to a new study. The archipelago is made up of Jersey and Guernsey, groups of islands that are not technically part of Britain, but are instead considered offshore British territories. They are regularly new study as offshore tax havens.

But now a referred to by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, claims that lax regulation of the Channel Islands’ telecommunications systems is allowing foreign spy agencies and contractors to use them as a base to carry out worldwide surveillance operations. Many of these operations rely on SS7, a decades-old feature of the global cellular telecommunications system, which allows cellular providers to provide service to mobile phone users as they travel internationally.

The SS7 system allows a mobile phone registered in a specific country to be used in a different country, and its user to be billed for the service. But to do so with accuracy, the SS7 system enables the service provider to track the owner of the device being charged for the phone call. This is done through what is known in cellular telecommunications parlance as a Provide Subscriber Location, or PSL, request.

Citing “leaked data, documents and interviews with industry insiders”, the study claims that intelligence agencies exploit the Channel Islands’ lax telecommunications regulation, which allows them to file PSL requests, not for billing purposes, but to detect the physical whereabouts of targets around the world. They do so by renting access from mobile phone operators based in the Channel Islands.

These PSL requests originate from Britain’s +44 country code, which is generally trusted in the global telecommunications industry, and are thus facilitated without raising suspicions. Notably, many of these PSL queries do not seek to acquire bulk data on users, but rather target specific individuals around the world. Additionally, if handled in certain ways, PSL queries can provide spies with access to the content of targeted communications, and thus information relating to unsuspecting users’ personal data, including text messages, bank accounts and passwords.

The study suggests that the British government is aware of this misuse of the system, but is finding it difficult to stop it because it has no direct legal jurisdiction over the Channel Islands.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 December 2020 | Permalink