Hague denies illegal intelligence sharing with the US

Claims that UK surveillance agency GCHQ illegally obtained data on British citizens from the US are “absolutely baseless”, secretary of state William Hague said in a statement to parliament this afternoon.

Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, Hague assured MPs that intelligence-sharing work is subject to a rigorous framework of proper statutory controls and ministerial oversight, as well as scrutiny by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

Intercepting the content of any individual’s communications in the UK requires a warrant from senior officials at the foreign office, must be proportionate, and is “no casual process", Hague told MPs this afternoon.

This combination provides “one of the strongest systems of checks and balances and democratic accountability anywhere in the world,” he insisted, saying that he had a “high level of confidence” the system works as intended.

However, he added that the government “take great care to balance individual privacy with our duty to safeguard the public and the UK’s national security,” and stressed the need to maintain the secrecy of “vital” intelligence work.

Hague went on to describe how GCHQ’s relationship with NSA is essential for the security of both countries, having stopped many terrorist, espionage and organized crime plots and saved many lives since the 1940s. He would not comment on any details on any leaked information, saying “nothing that gives any clue or comfort to terrorists, criminals or foreign intelligence".

He made the remarks in response to reports that GCHQ has accessed data from PRISM, a US intelligence system that reportedly gives agents "direct access" to data about non-US citizens held by Internet giants including Google, Facebook and Microsoft. 

The phrase "direct access" implies that the intelligence agencies are not using due legal process. However, since PRISM was first reported last week, US sources have said that the phrase is misleading.

Hague did not address specific questions about PRISM. 

The Intelligence and Security Committee will release a report on US and UK inteliigence sharing tomorrow, Hague announed, after which the Foreign Office will decide what, if any, further action should be taken in light of the controversial surveillance schemes.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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