Hague ‘Fails To Provide PRISM Reassurances’

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Hague accused of failing to come clean on vital questions surrounding the US operation

Foreign secretary William Hague has been accused of evading questions on the controversial PRISM data collection programme run by the US and its impact on UK citizens’ privacy.

Leaks to the Guardian and the Washington Post appear to have revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) has direct access to servers at Internet giants including Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

america security - Shutterstock - © Bruce RolffIt’s something the tech titans have all denied, but the US government has not, whilst GCHQ is believed to have accessed PRISM data on numerous occasions.

Hague ‘didn’t answer crucial questions’

Hague, speaking in Parliament yesterday, said claims GCHQ was accessing such information were baseless, asserting the UK had “one of the strongest systems of checks and balances and democratic accountability for secret intelligence anywhere in the world”.

“Any data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards.”

However, he added that he could not give away many details because of their sensitive nature.

But critics are not satisfied with the foreign secretary’s response. In particular, onlookers are concerned about how the US has explained away its actions by noting its operations were being carried out under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which affected non-US citizens.

“Hague gave no reassurances about what the USA is doing with UK citizens’ information. In the USA, we have no right to privacy, as non-US citizens,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

Hague was asked outright what he was doing to address these concerns by Conservative MP David Davis, a former Conservative shadow Home Secretary, who now campaigns on privacy.

It would be Hague’s job to make representations to the US on the issue, said Killock – who was not impressed that Hague seems not to be doing this: “Julian Huppert asked what rules and safeguards the NSA have for use of British citizens’ data. Tom Watson asked when Hague knew about the NSA’s PRISM technology. Neither question was answered. “Hague did not answer any of the crucial questions which we need answers to.”

The European Commission said yesterday it was to ask the US about PRISM, noting its concern about its potential impact on citizens’ privacy.

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