Allegations that Western electronic spy agencies have tremendous capabilities continue with reports that the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ can intercept messages of Google and Yahoo subscribers.

The report, first published Wednesday by the Washington Post, was quickly denounced by Google. Both the search engine giant and Yahoo denied they give direct access to customer data to government agencies without a search warrant.

According to, Google said it was “troubled” by the allegation.

The Post story comes from documents provided by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden.

Called MUSCULAR, the reports say the project avoids laws on spying on Americans by taking place at Google and Yahoo data centres overseas.

An NSA spokesperson denied the agency collects “vast quantities of U.S. persons’ data that way.

What is one to make of all this? There are, after all, legitimate law enforcement reasons why governments want to go through as much communications data as they can.

You may find a research paper released last week by Ron Deibert, director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and Citizen Lab helpful. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are pressuring telecommunications and content providers to co-operate on accessing their data.

Instead, he argues, access by these agencies should be strictly controlled by lawful procedures and oversight.

To read Deibert’s report click here.

To read the Washington Post news story click here

To read the story click here