The power of KARMA POLICE was illustrated in 2009, when GCHQ launched a top-secret operation to collect intelligence about people using the Internet to listen to radio shows.
The agency used a sample of nearly 7 million metadata records, gathered over a period of three months, to observe the listening habits of more than 200,000 people across 185 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.
They zeroed in on any stations found broadcasting recitations from the Quran, such as a popular Iraqi radio station and a station playing sermons from a prominent Egyptian imam named Sheikh Muhammad Jebril. They then used KARMA POLICE to find out more about these stations’ listeners, identifying them as users on Skype, Yahoo, and Facebook.
The summary report says the spies selected one Egypt-based listener for “profiling” and investigated which other websites he had been visiting. Surveillance records revealed the listener had viewed the porn site Redtube, as well as Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, Google’s blogging platform Blogspot, the photo-sharing site Flickr, a website about Islam, and an Arab advertising site.
From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online IdentitiesThe origin of the surveillance system’s name is not discussed in the documents. But KARMA POLICE is also the name of a popular song released in 1997 by the Grammy Award-winning British band Radiohead, suggesting the spies may have been fans.
A verse repeated throughout the hit song includes the lyric, “This is what you’ll get, when you mess with us.”
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