Former Home secretary David Blunkett and ex-director of GCHQ Sir David Omand both say the intelligence agency should be more transparent
GCHQ should be forced into greater transparency following Edward Snowden’s revelations of global surveillance programmes, a report backed by former home secretary David Blunkett and ex-director of GCHQ Sir David Omand has said.
Privacy advocacy body Big Brother Watch said the public had a right “to know who has used what powers, how often, and why”. It called for breakdowns in GCHQ’s use of surveillance powers, so citizens were “informed about the effectiveness of surveillance and whether data is being collected in bulk”.
Transparency reports from the body, and UK law enforcement, should be published on an annual basis. These would include details such as the laws under which surveillance was carried out and whether the investigation resulted in a prosecution or conviction, along the lines of a system used by the US Department of Justice.
Big Brother Watch also called on British companies to be more transparent with the government. “Companies play a key role in this area and while it may take some time to build up a fully accurate picture, delaying because of administrative concerns only raises questions that there is something amiss,” it said.
“Gagging orders on companies should be lifted where there is no threat to a specific operation. British companies will bolster their international reputation by being transparent about their co-operation with governments.”
GCHQ has been heavily criticised by human rights groups for saying little on the issues raised by Snowden’s revelations, which helped uncover tapping of undersea Internet cables and significant collaboration with the US National Security Agency to scoop up people’s communications data.
The Intelligence and Security Committee was also accused of not pressing GCHQ hard enough on the issues. It subsequently announced further investigations into the surveillance powers of the Cheltenham-based agency.
“Not all the ideas in this paper may prove practicable, but it is important to keep seeking safe ways of informing the public about the true purpose, value and extent of interception of communications about which misunderstandings abound. US practice may not always be the best guide due to the scale of their effort and since their legal structure is different,” said Omand.
“Nevertheless, I hope ways will be found to make more information available for the UK so as to enhance public trust in the intelligence work of the police and security authorities.”
In the US, president Obama has agreed to curb certain surveillance powers of the NSA, yet central government in the UK has decided GCHQ’s actions were legal. Deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has launched an independent review, however.