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Eric King, a lawyer who teaches IT law at the London School of Economics and is head of research at Privacy International, a British civil liberties advocacy group, said it was “remarkable” that the British government thought it had the right to hack computers, since none of the U.K.’s intelligence agencies has a “clear lawful authority” to launch their own attacks.An operation described in the 2010 presentation also involves in-person surveillance.

While GCHQ defends the legality of its actions, critics question whether the agency is too aggressive and its mission too broad.“GCHQ has no clear authority to send a virus or conduct cyber attacks,” said King.“Hacking is one of the most invasive methods of surveillance.” King said British cyber spies had gone on offense with “no legal safeguards” and without any public debate, even though the British government has criticized other nations, like Russia, for allegedly engaging in cyber warfare.The documents do not specify whether the journalists would be aware or unaware that they were being used to funnel information.The executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon, said that the revelation about “credential harvesting” should serve as a “wake up call” to journalists that intelligence agencies can monitor their communications.

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