Finally: Senior UK Politicians Start To Call For Review Of GCHQ's Spying Activities
from the about-time dept
One of the most disappointing aspects of the NSA and GCHQ revelations is the almost total lack of outrage in the UK. The government there has simply stuck to its line that everything was done in accordance with the law, and has refused to consider a formal review of British spying in light of what we have learned. This has led Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and head of the junior coalition party, to announce his own inquiry:
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has commissioned a review into the new intrusive capabilities of British intelligence agencies and the legal framework in which they operate, after failing to persuade David Cameron that the coalition government should act now to tighten the accountability of Britain’s spies.
The review, to be chaired by [the intelligence and military thinktank the Royal United Services Institute]’s director general, Michael Clarke, is in part modelled on the work commissioned in January by Obama from John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, into big data and privacy. Clegg says the aim of the review, due to report after the general election, will be to bring the issue into the mainstream of public debate, noting the “quality of the debate in the US provides an unflattering contrast to the muted debate on this side of the Atlantic”.
The same week, the UK’s main opposition party, Labour, finally broke its silence on the Snowden leaks and the running of the UK’s spy agencies, with a major speech from its spokesperson on the subject. As The Guardian reported:
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, is preparing to argue that the current arrangements are unsustainable for the government, and that it is damaging to trust in the agencies if ministers continue to hide their heads in the sand.
In a speech that represents Labour’s most serious intervention since the controversy about the scale of state surveillance broke last summer, she will say: “The oversight and legal frameworks are now out of date. In particular that means we need major reforms to oversight and a thorough review of the legal framework to keep up with changing technology.”
One reason for Labour’s reticence here is because of its past record. Under Tony Blair, it was Labour that gave police sweeping anti-terrorism powers that severely damaged civil liberties in the UK. And it was Labour that tried to bring in identity cards, and the Conservatives and Lib Dems who threw them out when they came into power in 2010. That makes Labour’s sudden embrace of enhanced oversight to protect freedom and privacy somewhat unconvincing.
But at least the party feels it has to make the right noises on the issue, rather than ducking it completely. Coupled with Clegg’s unofficial inquiry into how the UK’s spies should operate, these are welcome signs that UK politicians are finally starting to ask some serious questions about the massive scale of surveillance revealed by Snowden’s leaks, and the harm it causes. It’s not much, but it’s a start; now we just need David Cameron and the UK government to do the same.