• William Hague expresses pride in US-UK intelligence sharing despite ongoing controversy surrounding secret surveillance programme Prism
• Foreign Secretary insists UK and US operate within “strong legal framework” amid accusations that GCHQ circumvented legal safeguards by accessing information about UK citizens gathered by NSA
The Foreign Secretary said both nations operated “within a strong legal framework... under the rule of law” and used the information to protect the freedom of their citizens.
Eavesdropping agency GCHQ has been accused of circumventing legal safeguards by accessing information about UK citizens gathered by the National Security Agency (NSA) in a secret programme known as Prism.
Evidence of the arrangement was among documents leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden which have sparked a fraught debate on both sides of the Atlantic about the acceptable limits of state snooping.
They also appear to show that GCHQ is able to tap into fibre-optic cables carrying huge amounts of internet and communications data and store it for up to 30 days under an operation codenamed Tempora.
The agency insists it is “scrupulous” in complying with the law but civil rights group Liberty today requested a formal legal investigation into whether British intelligence services unlawfully accessed its communications.
Mr Hague addressed the concerns during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in California during his visit to the US.
“We should have nothing but pride in the unique and indispensable intelligence-sharing relationship between Britain and the United States,” he said.
“In recent weeks this has been a subject of some discussion.
“Let us be clear about it: in both our countries intelligence work takes place within a strong legal framework.
“We operate under the rule of law and are accountable for it. In some countries secret intelligence is used to control their people - in ours, it only exists to protect their freedoms.”
He noted that democratic societies were now “a world of almost unlimited access to information” - but that the need for libraries would remain.
“This library testifies that it is not enough to believe in our values, we have to defend them and be a beacon of them - all the more so in periods where these values are threatened,” he went on.
“Not all countries are willing to exert themselves to defend the freedoms they enjoy, but in the United Kingdom and United States of America we are.”
There was “no greater bastion of freedom than the Transatlantic Alliance”, he said.