A landmark report has concluded that the UK’s intelligence agencies do not seek to circumvent the law, but more transparency is essential.
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) of Parliament published its Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework document yesterday.
It is said to be the first comprehensive review of the full range of intrusive capability available to intelligence agencies in the UK.
According to the report, the legal framework surrounding surveillance is unnecessarily complicated and the Committee recommends that all current legislation governing the intrusive capabilities of security and intelligence agencies is replaced by a new, single Act of Parliament.
“The Internet has transformed the way we communicate and conduct our day-to-day lives,” claimed ISC member Hazel Blears MP.
“However this has led to tension between the individual right to privacy and the collective right to security.
The research, which began in July 2013, claims that while GCHQ’s bulk interception capability may involve large numbers of emails, this does not equate to blanket or indiscriminate surveillance.
The organisation is not collecting or reading everyone’s emails and it does not have the legal authority, resources or technical capability to do so.
The Committee also notes that bulk interception cannot be used to search for and examine the communications of an individual in the UK without specific authorisation signed by a Secretary of State.
It claims that GCHQ requires access to Internet traffic via bulk interception if it is to uncover threats including cyber criminals, nuclear weapons proliferators or terrorists.
“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,” claimed Blears.
“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 um, 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 towards greater transparency. Nevertheless, there is more that could and should be done. This is essential to improve public understanding and retain confidence in the vital work of the intelligence and security agencies,” she added.