MPs Declare GCHQ PRISM Access Lawful

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GCHQ access to the controversial PRISM programme is legal, Intelligence and Security Committee says

MPs scrutinising GCHQ access to the US National Security Agency’s PRISM database of people’s communications have decided the UK intelligence body did nothing illegal, despite previous claims it had broken the law.

Having spoken with GCHQ, the NSA and members of Congress in the US also looking into the legality of PRISM, the Intelligence and Security Committee decided the claims of wrongdoing were “unfounded”.

PRISM is thought to contain information collected on customers of major Internet firms, such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft. It was claimed GCHQ had bypassed UK law by gathering data from PRISM for its own usage.

GCHQ doughnutGCHQ surveillance legal?

“We have reviewed the reports that GCHQ produced on the basis of intelligence sought from the US, and we are satisfied that they conformed with GCHQ’s statutory duties. The legal authority for this is contained in the Intelligence,” the Committee said today.

“Further, in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place, in accordance with the legal safeguards contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.”

Foreign secretary William Hague welcomed the findings, praising the work of GCHQ. “I see daily evidence of the integrity and high standards of the men and women of GCHQ,” Hague added. “The ISC’s findings are further testament to their professionalism and values.”

Many remain concerned about PRISM and GCHQ surveillance. Earlier this month, Privacy International sued GCHQ over its access to PRISM and Tempora, a UK intelligence operation that collects information from tapped fibre lines.

Privacy International was not available for comment at the time of publication. Liberty, another human rights group, has also launched legal action against UK intelligence bodies.

The ISC did raise its own fears about the adequacy of the current laws governing surveillance, namely the Intelligence Services Act 1994, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

It will be investigating how the laws combine and whether they provide adequate safeguards.

“When the Intelligence and Security Committee is raising concerns that the current legal framework is adequate, alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear that all is not well. Parliament must urgently turn its attention to this issue,” Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch, told TechWeekEurope.

“I am deeply concerned that this investigation appears to have focused on only one of several programmes we now know to be operational, particularly the storage of the content of communications as they leave the UK.

“We are still a long way from getting to the bottom of what has been happening.”

Edward Snowden, the source of the revelations around PRISM and mass surveillance by Western governments, is currently in Russia. He may now seek permanent asylum in Russia, it was reported today.

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