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Downing Street GCHQ ‘spies’ track public movement for Boris Johnson

GCHQ has joined a Downing Street ‘cell’ which is able to give Boris Johnson minute-by-minute intelligence on people’s movements to see if they’re complying with lockdown, it has been revealed.

Analysts at the Government’s intelligence and security body have been deployed to work with the Cabinet Office as they ply through data that gives up-to-the-minute reports on public behaviour, along with internet searches for holidays and jobs.

The data can reportedly be used to reflect on the current employment market, as well as helping to decide whether England will need to extend its national lockdown.

Work by the cell has already had an impact, according to The Telegraph, which says its analysis of online job searches helped sway the Government into extending its furlough scheme up to March. 

GCHQ has set up a cell at Downing Street, away from its headquarters in Cheltenham, above, where it can directly feed the latest information on public activity to the Cabinet Office and Boris Johnson

GCHQ has set up a cell at Downing Street, away from its headquarters in Cheltenham, above, where it can directly feed the latest information on public activity to the Cabinet Office and Boris Johnson

A source told the paper the set up has allowed for ‘better policymaking,’ during the pandemic, and will likely influence Boris Johnson’s decision on whether to extend lockdown beyond December 2. 

According to The Telegraph, the GCHQ unit’s work at the Cabinet Office has helped Mr Johnson by filtering data to the most important information he requires to make key decisions. 

By referring to data for online job searches, GCHQ can provide a report on the threat to employment posed by Covid-19 in a shorter space of time than the Office for National Statistics. 

It has also worked to secure and anonymise data from the NHS Test and Trace app, so it cannot be accessed by hostile states.

Jeremy Fleming, GCHQ’s director, revealed in the summer that the agency was involved in the Government’s response to the pandemic.

He told the Cheltenham Science Festival: ‘I’m blessed with nearly 10,000 people in GCHQ… many of them with very strong technical backgrounds.

‘They have a role to play more broadly in projecting our data science skills and our technology skills, including across government, where it’s required. So, we’ve leant in to help on that.’ 

Analysts at the GCHQ cell are able to give Boris Johnson up to date information on public behaviour, along with internet searches related to jobs and holiday, in order to inform decisions taken by the Prime Minister in regard to lockdown measures and policies such as furlough

Analysts at the GCHQ cell are able to give Boris Johnson up to date information on public behaviour, along with internet searches related to jobs and holiday, in order to inform decisions taken by the Prime Minister in regard to lockdown measures and policies such as furlough

GCHQ has contributed to the fight against coronavirus in other ways.

Earlier this month it was reported the agency had already started a campaign to tackle anti-vaccination conspiracy theories being spread on social media.

A government source told the Times: ‘GCHQ has been told to take out antivaxers online and on social media. There are ways they have used to monitor and disrupt terrorist propaganda.’  

Tactics thought to be considered are the take down of websites and content linked to hostile states and the disruption of the actors behind the fake news. 

GCHQ will attempt to do this by encrypting the state’s own data so they cannot access it and by blocking communication between hostile groups. 

Russia is behind a high proportion of false information about the coronavirus, one source has claimed. 

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