Tempora, as exposed by The Guardian newspaper, is a clandestine security electronic surveillance program trialled in 2008, established in 2011 and operated by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It was revealed by Edward Snowden, a former American intelligence contractor who leaked information about the program to journalist Glenn Greenwald in May 2013 as part of his revelations of government sponsored mass surveillance programs. Snowden claimed that data collected by the Tempora programme is shared with the National Security Agency of the United States.
Two principal components of Tempora are called “Mastering the Internet” and “Global Telecoms Exploitation”. The aim of each, is to collate online and telephone traffic.
Data utilised by Tempora is extracted from fibre-optic cable communications, and processed. Data are preserved for three days while metadata are kept for thirty days. It is alleged that GCHQ produces larger amounts of metadata than NSA. By May 2012 300 GCHQ analysts and 250 NSA analysts had been assigned to sort data. About 850,000 people have security clearance to access the data.
The Guardian claims that no distinction is made in the gathering of data between private citizens and targeted suspects. Tempora is said to include recordings of telephone calls, the content of email messages, Facebook entries and the personal internet history of users.