Why Dutch internet users should be concerned

Last month the Guardian revealed the details of a GCHQ program called “Mastering the Internet”, aimed at vacuuming up as much internet data as possible. It emerged that the agency was able to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fiber optic cables for up to 30 days. Friday German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published the names (and secret code names) of the companies that have given the GCHQ secret unlimited access to their network of undersea cables.

Names and top secret code names of the companies involved:

Company Code name Remark
British Telecom Remedy
Verizon Business Dacron
Vodafone Gerontic Prior to July 27, 2012, known as Cable & Wireless Worldwide
Global Crossing Pinnage Acquired by Level 3 on October 3, 2011
Level 3 Little
Viatel Vitreous
Interoute Streetcar

As a Dutch citizen I’m particularly interested in the the undersea cables that come ashore in the Netherlands and have landing points in the UK. As you probably suspect already, virtually all undersea cables that have landing points in the Netherlands have landing points in the UK as well and are – surprise, surprise – operated by the GCHQ-buddies listed above.

Undersea cables with landing points in both the UK and the Netherlands and operated by the aforementioned firms (ordered by NL landing point from North to South):

Cable system Operator Landing station
UK-Netherlands 14 British Telecom Egmond aan Zee, North Holland
Atlantic Crossing 1 Level 3 Beverwijk, North Holland
Ulysses 2 Verizon IJmuiden, North Holland
Circe North Viatel Zandvoort, North Holland
Concerto 1 Interoute Zandvoort, North Holland
TAT-14 British Telecom, Verizon, Level 3, among others. Katwijk aan Zee, South Holland
Farland North British Telecom Domburg, Zeeland

KPN, a Dutch telecommunications company, is partly responsible for the “UK-Netherlands 14” cable and some segments of the “TAT-14” cable.

Source: TeleGeography – Submarine Cable Map

The Farland North cable system is not shown on the map.

The Pangea South cable system (orange line, landing point Alkmaar) is operated by Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks which is not named in the leaked documents.

The same applies to the TGN Northern Europe cable (not shown on the map, landing point Groningen), it is operated by TATA Communications which is not named in the leaked documents.

The reason why Dutch internet users should be concerned is that the lion’s share of the internet traffic that leaves the country flows through undersea cables operated by companies the GCHQ refers to as “intercept partners” in leaked documents.

Unfortunately, the debate on mass internet surveillance hasn’t really started yet in the Netherlands, this in contrary to the eastern neighbours. Could these latest revelations kick start this badly needed debate?