Nick Clegg Launches A Review Of GCHQ Accountability

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Deputy Prime Minister says a universally despised intelligence agency cannot protect the country

Nick Clegg has commissioned an independent review into the accountability of the UK’s intelligence agencies, which will examine the information made public by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The deputy Prime Minister said he was forced to take matters into his own hands, after he failed to convince coalition partners of a necessity for reform.

“The agencies have harnessed the power of new technologies to ensure that we keep pace with criminals and terrorists. That is entirely right – I would expect them to do so. The question is whether the development of these new capabilities is proportionate and held properly accountable,” wrote Clegg in the article published by The Guardian.

Who watches the watchmen?

Clegg says he sees two major problems with current GCHQ conduct. The first is the indiscriminate, bulk collection of communications data, which mostly includes information about innocent citizens. The second is the lack of accountability before the UK population.

Online surveillance © - Fotolia.com“The public interest cannot be democratically determined behind closed doors. It is not enough for the agencies to claim that they strike the correct balance between privacy and national security: they must be seen to do so. That means greater transparency, and strong, exacting, third-party oversight,” wrote Clegg.

The review will be conducted by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), the oldest defence and security think tank in the world, which was founded by the Duke of Wellington himself. The findings will be reported after the general election in 2015.

Meanwhile, Clegg suggested the government should introduce annual transparency reports which include number of requests for user information issued to ISPs and telecoms firms, similar to the ones introduced in the US, but coming from the government’s side; and a new web portal to act as a single source of information about the work of the agencies like GCHQ and SIS.

He also proposed changes to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which considers complaints against the use of intrusive powers by the intelligence agencies, and said the government should combine the responsibilities of the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Intelligence Services Commissioner into a new position – Inspector General for the UK intelligence services.

Clegg said he hopes to find consensus with a similar inquiry, set up by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). However, he later noted that the ISC needs reform too – Clegg criticised it for being too small and too friendly with the current government.

“I have not yet been able to agree these ideas within government with my Coalition partners but I believe they are important and much needed reforms. The Liberal Democrats will continue to champion their introduction both inside and outside of government and I hope that both the Conservative and Labour parties will support them sooner rather than later,” wrote the deputy Prime Minister.

“It is in all our interests that the intelligence agencies are able to operate successfully. Their effectiveness, and ultimately our own safety, depends on their ability to command public trust.”

Last week, it emerged that GCHQ has been collecting millions of images of law-abiding citizens obtained directly from their webcams during online chats.

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