UK Spy Agencies Sign Deal with Amazon to Host Classified Information: Report

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend, Lauren Sánchez, at the UK diplomatic residence on September 20, 2021 in New York City. The British Prime Minister is one of more than 100 heads of state or government …
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Spy agencies in the United Kingdom have inked a billion-dollar deal with the Masters of the Universe at Amazon to host classified information on the tech giant’s cloud computing apparatus.

MI5, the British equivalent to the FBI, MI6, which serves a similar role to the CIA, and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is similar to the NSA, have all agreed to host top-secret information on Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing servers.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the deal is believed to be worth between £500m to £1bn over the next decade. The full details of the agreement have not and most likely will not be made public.

The use of AWS software will reportedly enable quicker cross-agency sharing of information and help agents in the field share data remotely. Amazon is also said to be sharing technology with the government which can “spot” and translate individual voices within lengthy intercepted recordings.

The report has raised eyebrows, as it is believed to be the first of its kind in which British classified material will be stored with a foreign entity. People aware of the scope of the deal told the paper that the information will be held on servers on British soil and Amazon will supposedly be prevented from accessing the intelligence.

However, the executive director of Privacy International, Gus Hosein, said that Parliament and the public should at least be informed about the breadth project.

“This is yet another worrying public-private partnership, agreed in secret,” he said, adding: “If this contract goes through, Amazon will be positioned as the go-to cloud provider for the world’s intelligence agencies. Amazon has to answer for itself which countries’ security services it would be prepared to work for.”

Amazon has already entered into partnerships with intelligence agencies in the United States, including the CIA and the Defense Department, effectively blurring the line between corporations and the state. Other big tech firms have also worked closely with the American security state, including Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and IBM.

The British government has already outsourced the hosting of health data, singing a deal reportedly worth £23 million with the Peter Thiel-founded American data analytics company Palantir.

The contract, which was signed at the outset of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, provided the secretive firm with access to data on “matters far beyond the response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” such as Brexit, NHS workforce plans, and general government business, according to the BBC.

Ciaran Martin, former head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre — a subject of GCHQ —  defended the use of foreign cloud computing by British spy agencies, but noted that “controlling and restricting vendor access to data is extremely important”.

“As long as the company is from a reliable country, with technology you understand, there are ways of doing this which will enable the agencies to manage the risk,” Martin claimed.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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