Hague labels Prism-GCHQ snooping claims as 'baseless'

12 Jun 2013

In a statement made to the House of Commons this week, Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that British intelligence agencies were not using information gathered by US spies to dodge anti-snooping laws. Except, perhaps, they could be. So says Edward Snowden, the former CIA worker who has now revealed that he was behind the documents leaked to The Guardian which suggested that GCHQ, one of Britain's renowned intelligence agencies, could have had access to the US internet monitoring programme, Prism, since 2010. 

 

If true, it could mean that the personal information of thousands of UK citizens could have been accessed without their knowledge. Prism has the ability to give the FBI and National Security Agency access to internet websites including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Apple, all of which hold confidential personal information which, it now appears, could be vulnerable to the government's equivalent of Big Brother.

However, Mr Hague stated that the accusation that UK security services were involved in such corruption was "baseless". 

He said: “Any data obtained by us from the United States involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. 

"Our agencies practise and uphold UK law at all times, even when dealing with information from outside the United Kingdom."

Mr Hague reassured the House that although the security service frequently asks for certain requests in order to carry out intelligence work; all requests are made through a "strict legal framework". Concurring with this view, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, commented that the law was “quite clear” on the issue.

He said: “If the British intelligence agencies are seeking to know the content of emails by people living in the UK, then they actually have to get lawful authority. Normally that means ministerial authority.”

“That applies equally whether they are going to do the intercept themselves or whether they are going to ask somebody else to do it on their behalf".

Despite denying the accusations, Mr Hague hinted that there could be a case for a revived Communications Data Bill. In response to the suggestion, he replied: “The case for a Communications Data Bill rests on its own merits. Of course, you refer to some of those merits and the government will bring forward proposals in the near future on this subject". 

Whether such a bill will come to light is debateable given the current circumstances, however, the recent revelations made by Mr Snowden have caused high public concern since the accusation spread through the media. These concerns will need to be satisfied in order for the public to have faith that the British intelligence services are working within the law for the greater security of the UK. 

By Emily Stacey

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