MI5 Chief Wants Surveillance Powers To Keep Up With Technology

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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MI5 director general backs government moves to help intelligence agencies, claiming additional powers are necessary to keep country safe from terrorism

The director general of MI5 has backed plans by the government to help UK intelligence agencies gain more information about the communications of suspected terrorists.

In the first ever live media interview conducted by a senior British intelligence official, Andrew Parker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that agencies could not risk being left in the dark by new technologies and said MI5 was only interested in terrorists, not the general public.

“Because of that threat we face and the way terrorists operate and the way we all live today, if we are to stop the people who mean us harm, MI5 and others need to be able to navigate the Internet, to find terrorist communication,” he said. “We need to use data sets so we can join the dots to be able to find and stop the terrorists before they’re able to bring plots to fruition.

“We’ve been pretty successful at that in recent years, but it’s becoming more difficult to do it as technology changes faster and faster.”

New Legislation

surveillance spy security NS GCHQ © Andrea Danti ShutterstockHome Secretary Theresa May is working on new legislation that would grant intelligence services greater powers in what is widely regarded as a revival of the controversial ‘Snooper’s Charter’ that was rejected by the Conservative’s former coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.

Now with a solely Tory government in power, May has pressed ahead, reportedly meeting with US and UK communications providers to help agencies gain access to communications data. Some are reported to have concerns about the cost and impact on reputation, while privacy campaigners also oppose the legislation, a draft of which could be published in October.

Parker said it was for parliament to decide what powers MI5 would be given, but he made no secret of his agencies desire to be given a stronger legal framework in which to operate in. He said the current powers were decided in 2000, years before many of the current technologies used today were invented.

“I think it’s important that from time to time, legislation is updated,” he added. “We need to be able to monitor the communications of terrorists, spies and others. We need to be able to obtain data about their communications, we need to be able to obtain other information about them.”

“We’re focused on the people who mean us harm. We’re not about browsing through the private lives of the citizens of this country. We do not have population scale monitoring or anything like that.”

Tech industry

The government has previously spoken of its demand for an encryption “back door” – a move which many experts have dismissed. But Parker did say he expecte companies like Facebook and Google to cooperate. With many tech firms located in the  US, he wants International cooperation.

“It requires the cooperation of the companies who run and provide services over the Internet. It’s in nobody’s interest that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of any authorities with proper legal power.

“It will be a continuing challenge as technology shifts. It is important that in the future that there is not only is a framework of clear law in countries like Britain, but also there are international agreements where companies have a confident basis to cooperate with agencies like mine and the police in order to protect society and their customers.”

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