UK Parliament Finally Admits That Snowden Revelations Reveal That GCHQ Oversight Is Broken
from the about-time dept
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:
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."
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."
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".It's a small step forward, but an important one.
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.