Political scientist Dr Andrew Neal, writing on an Edinburgh University blog, highlights some of the pitfalls facing an independent Scotland in establishing a coherent intelligence system to combat serious crime and terror threats.
An independent Scotland without a dedicated intelligence force might have no other option than to ask GCHQ to track individuals in Scotland, or leave the country open as a security haven for criminals.
“If Scotland is not going to monitor domestic communications like the UK government wants to, then will this leave an unsurveilled utopia of personal freedom north of the Border?” he wrote. “Could a would-be terrorist simply move from London to Gretna to avoid having his or her communications monitored?”
He added: “Here is a modest proposal … an independent Scotland could simply allow GCHQ to spy on its citizens’ communications, then share the intelligence with the Scottish Government. This way, GCHQ would be spying on foreigners, the Scottish government could legitimately say that it does not monitor its own citizens’ electronic activities, and the UK security services would avoid the terrifying Gretna scenario.”
Meanwhile, amid growing international concern about internet snooping, pressure is mounting this weekend for clarification over what type of information is requested from social networking sites by Scottish police.
MSPs have called for police officials to reveal whether officers have acquired personal data from internet sites such as Facebook to obtain information about individuals.
The calls come as Facebook revealed that it received 9,000 to 10,000 requests for user data from US government entities in the second half of 2012 – covering issues from local crime to national security.
The furore surrounding the intelligence gathered by America’s National Security Agency last week spread to the UK as reports claimed that GCHQ had had access to a US spy programme called Prism since June 2010.
Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said Police Scotland should tell Scottish citizens if it is using Facebook and other social networking sites to glean information about individuals it is tracking. Police Scotland said no-one was available for comment.
Commenting about Dr Neal’s blog, Macdonald warned of an intelligence gap. “We haven’t heard anything from the Scottish Government about what we would do to protect Scotland against international terrorists in the event of independence. GCHQ is a fantastic operation and has such a global reach. The idea that we would have nothing to do with it is just daft.”
MSP and former police officer Graeme Pearson agreed. “Scotland would be in a precarious position post-independence in terms of creating relationships with other states,” he said. “Dr Neal’s fears suppose that the UK would allow us to rely on GCHQ. That may not be the case.”