UK spy agencies contract Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host classified material in deal to boost use of data analytics and artificial intelligence for espionage purposes.
GCHQ had supported the purchase of a high-security cloud system, which would be used by its sister services, MI5 and MI6. Other government departments, such as the Ministry of Defense, would also use the system in joint operations.
The deal, estimated by industry experts to be worth £ 500-1 billion over the next decade, was signed this year with Amazon.com’s AWS cloud service unit, has The Financial Times first reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.
The deal with Amazon is likely to raise sovereignty concerns, as the UK’s most secret data will be hosted by a single US tech company.
GCHQ has told news agencies it will not comment on reports on its relationships with technology vendors. AWS declined to comment on the report.
In February, British GCHQ spies said they had fully embraced artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover patterns in global data to counter hostile disinformation and catch child molesters.
The GCHQ has been using basic forms of AI, such as translation technology, for years, but is increasing its use, partly in response to the use of AI by hostile states and partly due to the data explosion that makes it efficient.
Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, told the FT that there was a lot that parliament, regulators and the public needed to know about the deal.
“This is a disturbing new public-private partnership, concluded in secret,” he said. “If this contract is concluded, Amazon will position itself as the go-to cloud provider for global intelligence agencies. Amazon must respond by itself to the security services of the countries for which it would be willing to work.
GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming told a conference on Monday that the number of ransomware attacks doubled in the UK in 2021, compared to last year.