UK Parliament Finally Admits That Snowden Revelations Reveal That GCHQ Oversight Is Broken

from the about-time dept

For all of our discussions about how the US government has responded idiotically to the Snowden revelations, the response in the UK has been much worse. Making newspapers destroy hard drives, detaining people at airports for “terroristic” acts of journalism and generally seeking to block any and all discussion goes a level beyond what’s happened in the US. And it’s become clear that, as weak as oversight of the intelligence community has been in the US, it’s been even worse in the UK, where its own “watchdog” only has one full-time employee.

And, while there’s been at least a somewhat healthy debate about the state of surveillance within the US Congress, it’s been much more muted over in the UK. So it’s encouraging to see a new report come from a group of UK Members of Parliament that issues a blistering condemnation of the current state of oversight of the UK intelligence community:

A highly critical report by the Commons home affairs select committee published on Friday calls for a radical reform of the current system of oversight of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, arguing that the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and parliament itself.

The MPs say the current system was designed in a pre-internet age when a person’s word was accepted without question. “It is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley, not the 21st-century reality of the security and intelligence services,” said committee chairman, Keith Vaz. “The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny. It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in parliament.”

Of course, the current head of the intellegence and security committee in Parliament, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, pretty much dismissed the entire report with a wave of the hand, calling it “old hat.”

Still, the report is fairly damning for the intelligence community, and directly notes what a service Ed Snowden appears to have done in exposing just how out of control the intelligence community has become — and what little real oversight the government has over it. While some MPs (from the Labour and Lib Dem parties) sought to congratulate the Guardian for “responsibly reporting” the Snowden leaks, others from the Tory party voted them down. Still, it’s good to see members from two of the three major UK political parties admit that you can responsibly report on these things and that Snowden helped to open up a “wide and international public debate.”

The report also contrasts how the Guardian has responded to Parliamentary inquiry with that of the intelligence community:

Their report says Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, responded to criticism of newspapers that decided to publish Snowden’s disclosures, including the head of MI6’s claim that it was “a gift to terrorists”, by saying that the alternative would be that the next Snowden would just “dump the stuff on the internet”.

The MPs say: “One of the reasons that Edward Snowden has cited for releasing the documents is that he believes the oversight of security and intelligence agencies is not effective. It is important to note that when we asked British civil servants – the national security adviser and the head of MI5 – to give evidence to us they refused. In contrast, Mr Rusbridger came before us and provided open and transparent evidence.”

The report makes clear the intelligence chiefs should drop their boycott of wider parliamentary scrutiny. “Engagement with elected representatives is not, in itself, a danger to national security and to continue to insist so is hyperbole,” it says.

It’s a small step forward, but an important one.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “UK Parliament Finally Admits That Snowden Revelations Reveal That GCHQ Oversight Is Broken”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Richard (profile) says:

Re: slight correction

The UK Parliament did not admit anything. A select committee said so, but that report is not adopted by or approved by the Parliament as a whole.

True – but select committees are selected in a way that reflects the composition of the parliament as a whole so this is still way better than just a few (self appointed) MP’s making a statement.

Anonymous Coward says:

…the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies…

I can not believe someone finally gets just why anything being said by either GCHQ or the NSA is not believable and actually tells it to a political body with it’s head in the sand. Of course all this is going to do is produce hand waving while they try to figure out how to stop it.

In the end no one believes the security agencies and that is transferring to the government as well as the political bodies that make the laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

from what i read, all Rifkin did was accept any and all answers to the usual, unimportant questions he raised. when the heads of the various Intelligence Services can refuse to give evidence, it shows where the power is.
the other important thing that needs addressing is the governments willingness to do whatever the Entertainment industries want. included in that is the ability to mine data from ISPs, who are expected to retain information for scrutiny by the industries and allow letters, then law suits to take place. with the government allowing the industries to do that, i suspect the favour in return is that the government can look at the data too. as it is now illegal for data retention in EU countries, perhaps the government think that they are clear to have the industries let it look at it as well. how the ISPs are supposed to retain that data, when it has been ruled illegal to do so throughout the EU, i dont know

gezzerx (profile) says:


Just more PR & propaganda, censorship, & coverup by the Government that will continue its smear campaign against Mr. Snowden by using the following tactics as quoted by Joseph Goebbels during the 1930’s & 1940’s.

?If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally
important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent,for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.? AND

?The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over?

The US. & UK. Governments no longer have any credibility ! They make statements but never provide proof . Trust us, I think NOT ! Don’t trust but verify, & demand evidence of proof ! Until they do so, it’s just more lies, excuses, rationalizations, & justifications .

No more lies, excuses rationalizations,or justifications, the public needs to hold these officials to account to the fullest extent of the law under Title 18 sec. 241 & 242 So any future traitors will know there will be consequences to such behavior. I hope the United Kingdom has equivalent laws, but if not maybe it’s time to get some. Better late than never.


He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
Benjamin Franklin

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
Thomas Jefferson

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.
James Madison

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.
Patrick Henry

“We the People are the rightful masters of BOTH Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution”
Abraham Lincoln

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
Abraham Lincoln

As a reminder Hermann Goering said at the Nuremberg Trials .
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

NSA General Keith Alexander told lawmakers “that even if approved, the measure would not necessarily end warrant-less collection depending on judicial interpretation.”

Time to start removing the corporate Congress from office & defunding the NSA to force them to comply with the law & impose jail time for non compliance under USC Title 18 Sec. 241 & 242. Google it !

Stop with the trying to put the lipstick on a pig approach !

Disclaimer: Be advised it is possible, that this communication is being monitored by the National Security Agency or GCHQ. I neither condone or support any such policy, by any Government authority that does not comply, as stipulated by the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Mara Crisium says:

Democratic oversight subverted by intelligence and their poodles

The about-time dept is right that this is a significant moment in UK politics: oversight has lost all credibility here. It may not be clear to US citizens that Malcolm Rifkind, a very decent, very intelligent and seasoned senior politician, has brought the oversight process much deeper into disrepute by not recognizing publicly the obvious: the oversight is seen as a joke by the British people.
The ISC has betrayed its democratic mandate: the electorate would not have sanctioned these particular actions of GCHQ had they been given a say, and most oppose them.

GEMont (profile) says:

Rant No. 37723

The PNAC Conspiracy

I’m afraid that governments the world over have decided that Republican Democracy, as espoused by the old America, is simply too dangerous to those who wish only to profit from civilization, and governments the world over have decided to combine forces to insure that they remain in power and continue to profit greatly from the process of governing.

This means putting an end to Republican Democracy as a real ideal, and replacing it with a pseudo-democracy that merely lets the public pointlessly vote in pre-fixed pseudo-elections, and makes lip service to the ideals of freedom and integrity. It is called fascism – government by the rich for the rich, through disinformation and fear.

This is because those in government have long known that government is obsolete and is in fact, detrimental to the progress of civilization and to the well-being of those governed.

They are afraid that the public will eventually realize this fact and combine their power to eliminate the process of parasitic exploitation that masquerades as government.

Were one to eliminate government the world over tomorrow, every citizen on earth would become extremely wealthy, simply by dividing up among themselves, the capital wasted on and by government.

So much wealth would be freed up that poverty, starvation, environmental pollution, disease and numerous other “problems” that government has caused through its insatiable exploitation, could be quickly eliminated, world-wide.

Government’s sole purpose is to make sure the populations they control, remain profitable to those who own property and land and need large numbers of desperate people to create the products and services that make the property, land and business owners wealthy. These very same property, land and business owners make up the ranks of the membership of government, and are thus working only for themselves.

Automation can now replace most laborers for most tasks and while the government knows from experience that talk of automation leads to citizen unrest, they also know that automation will double and triple their yearly profits.

So they have decided to not talk about it but implement it simply by eliminating the population through war, disease, pollution, toxic food and drink, poisonous medicine, and outright false flag murder, so that the public will soon demand automation be initiated to take up the slack for production and service due to the loss of labor from the sick, dying, insane and dead.

Its a bold plan, but they do hold the lion’s share of the world’s wealth and they control both the information media and the education processes as well as the world’s food, medicine and military production facilities and distribution networks. The only thing that stands in the way of a billionaire utopia, is true republican democracy – the ability of the people to change the government and its membership by popular agreement.

Of course, the division of the population into Democratic and Republican factions was designed to prevent the public from realizing that the real enemy was the government, and it has worked well for a long time in America and prevented the people from doing their civil duty under the rules of a Republican Democracy, and firing/hanging the criminals that now hold their country and their future hostage.

God Save America?
God only helps those who help themselves.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Rant No. 37723

Something something Libertarian unicorns and rainbows. I’m amused that you think that government alone is responsible for society’s ills, as if every citizen on earth would be willing to divide the newly freed-up capital between themselves fairly. How naive.

Have you never met a Fox News viewer? Try to imagine a right wing FUD-monger sharing anything with anyone beyond his immediate family, particularly if he suspected them of being anything less than the deepest, darkest shade of authoritarian conservative. Try not to laugh. Cleans coffee off keyboard

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Rant No. 37723

I know you can read Pragmatic, so I assume that you chose that particular line in order to post your dislike of the idea of ending government, without actually stating your true feelings.

Perhaps you work in that industry, or earn an income because of it. Or maybe you just had a bad day. Just a guess.

First off, can you please point out where I said I “think that government alone is responsible for society’s ills”.

I actually stated that the fault was due entirely to those who have accumulated vast wealth and property and land and who tirelessly work to accumulate more of the same by any means possible. That these people form the membership of government is not a coincidence.

Government’s sole purpose is to make sure the populations they control, remain profitable to those who own property and land and need large numbers of desperate people to create the products and services that make the property, land and business owners wealthy. These very same property, land and business owners make up the ranks of the membership of government, and are thus working only for themselves.”

It is through the institution of government that these people wreak havoc upon the earth in search of wealth.

Since you did not read it from my rant, I assume it was just a handy straw man created to carry the rest of your “amusing” post.

RE: “Fairly”

The example was that 1. were you to eliminate government.
and 2. were you to divide the gained wealth normally absorbed and wasted by government among the population….

The resulting windfall would be so large as to make everyone on earth nearly a millionaire and go far towards quickly eliminating the numerous social and environmental crisis currently faced by the population, that were caused by the greed of our wealthiest brothers in their relentless search for greater and greater wealth.

“Fairly divided” was not even considered, as it was an exercise in mathematical quantity, not human morality.

The rest of your post is obviously based on your straw-man’s burden, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever otherwise.

And no, I have never knowingly met a Fox News viewer. Nor would I want to. I tend to avoid those who follow a leader.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...