The issue of state snooping is particularly sensitive in Northern Ireland, given the generations-long splits in the community, particularly between Protestants and Catholics, nationalists and unionists. There has long been suspicion that the authorities used mass surveillance to keep tabs on dissidents within Northern Ireland.
The latest set of documents form the leaks of Snowden, show that the PSNI had access — via the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), the predecessor of the current National Crime Agency (NCA), to material gathered by the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), using a program known as Milkwhite Enrichment Service (MES).
According to the leaks, Milkwhite supported "the Home Office Communications Capabilities Directorate (CCD), whose program is tasked with modernising the UK's domestic interception capabilities." The system was used to "improve customer reach", increase "service capacity" and allow for "better productivity of outputs."
Asked by the Irish News whether it had to apply to a judge for permission to snoop on individuals, the PSNI spokesperson said: "It would be inappropriate for policing to become involved in what is clearly a regulatory matter. I therefore suggest that your best course of action is to write to the Interception of Communications Commissioners Office who have oversight of such matters."