While MPs have rejected assertions that Britain’s security services have engaged in mass online surveillance and data collection, campaign group Privacy International has claimed that the security committee report published today provides confirmation that it GCHQ is engaged in mass surveillance.
“Far from allaying the public’s concerns, the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report should trouble every single person who uses a computer or mobile phone: it describes in great detail how the security services are intercepting billions of communications each day and interrogating those communications against thousands of selection fields,” Privacy International told Computing in a statement.
It accused the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which included disgraced former Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind among its membership until he was forced to step down at the end of February, of attempting to mask the scale of GCHQ’s surveillance and bulk interception of communications in the UK
“No amount of technical and legal jargon can obscure the fact that this is a parliamentary committee, in a democratic country, telling its citizens that they are living in a surveillance state and that all is well,” claimed the organisation.
It continued: “This report should serve as a condemnation of the oversight and accountability framework in this country, since it is without question that the Intelligence and Security Committee would not have undertaken this review had it not been for Edward Snowden’s actions.
“The fact that it took an individual risking his life to reveal illicit government spying programmes to catalyse scrutiny of this kind is illustrative of the deeply ingrained secrecy amongst, and deference to, the security services in Britain.”
It accused the MPs that comprise the Intelligence and Security Committee of fundamentally failing to fulfill their role to provide democratic oversight of the security services.
“There is a great need to fundamentally overhaul Britain’s unnecessarily complicated and yet permissive surveillance laws, which do little to protect our rights and do not provide the public with the ability to understand how our agencies spy and under which circumstances surveillance will occur. By doing so, they have set a poor standard for the rest of the world.”
Privacy International argued that the new legal framework for the security services that the Committee called for must genuinely restrain them, not provide loopholes or expand their powers.
“As our Government develops new techniques that reach ever further into our private lives, including the expansive powers surrounding state-sponsored hacking, new debates are needed about whether the state should possess such capabilities, and the necessary new safeguards.
“Parliament must ensure that the law is fit for purpose, that all powers and actions are explicitly authorised by an independent judiciary, and properly overseen to audit use and address any abuse,” it concluded.