GCHQ spying 'legal and essential', rules parliament body

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) committee has ruled that GCHQ's surveillance is legal and essential, but notes that legislation governing surveillance bodies needs to be changed.

GCHQ spying 'legal and essential', rules parliament body
GCHQ spying 'legal and essential', rules parliament body

Following an 18-month review in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA and GCHQ surveillance, the ISC concluded yesterday that the intelligence agency does not carry out indiscriminate “bulk interception” of communications in order to find targets, and does not carry out blanket surveillance of the public, as only a tiny percentage of all information collected is seen by a "human eye".

Speaking on behalf of the committee after the release of the 149-page report, “Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework,"  Hazel Blears MP, said: "Given the extent of targeting and filtering involved, it is evident that while GCHQ's bulk interception capability may involve large numbers of emails, it does not equate to blanket surveillance, nor does it equate to indiscriminate surveillance.”

"GCHQ is not collecting or reading everyone's emails: they do not have the legal authority, the resources, or the technical capability to do so." However, the same report did note that some agency staff had been fired for inappropriate access to data.

Privacy campaigners were happier with the report's insistence that the legislation governing the actions of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ needs to be more transparent, deeming the current legal framework “unnecessarily complicated” and one which “lacks transparency.”

Blears continued: "There is a legitimate public expectation of openness and transparency in today's society, and the security and intelligence agencies are not exempt from that.

"While we accept that they need to operate in secret if they are to be able to protect us from those who are plotting in secret to harm us, the government must make every effort to ensure that information is placed in the public domain when it is safe to do so. This report is an important first step toward greater transparency."

Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said in a statement: “This inquiry was established to provide the public with evidence-based reassurances that their communications are not unlawfully or disproportionately being monitored. However, in many areas the report is a missed opportunity with key details having being redacted.

“We welcome the key recommendation of placing the intelligence agencies surveillance operations under one piece of legislation, which should mean that we move away from the current confusing and outdated regime. However, it is critical that time for a public thorough and frank debate be given and that any legislation be well considered.

Page 1 of 2