GCHQ: Coalition split over ‘worrying’ data claims

Britain's eavesdropping security centre GCHQ. Picture: Reuters
Britain's eavesdropping security centre GCHQ. Picture: Reuters
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LIBERAL Democrat MPs last night described reports that UK security services accessed people’s personal internet accounts via US intelligence agencies as “worrying and suspicious”.

The remarks came as William Hague said “law-abiding” citizens had “nothing to fear” from the British intelligence services.

The Foreign Secretary said reports that the eavesdropping centre GCHQ had circumvented the law to gather data on British citizens were “nonsense” – but he refused to comment on claims it has had access to a US spy programme called Prism since June 2010.

Mr Hague will give a statement to MPs on the activities of GCHQ today, when he is due to face questions from his Lib Dem coalition partners whether there has been an attempt to introduce a “snooper’s charter” after they had blocked it being introduced as a bill.

Ahead of his statement, Mr Hague has refused to confirm or deny claims GCHQ has had access to Prism, which allegedly includes intercepted material from personal e-mail accounts.

Major internet search engines and providers, such as Google and Facebook, have denied any information has come from their products, but there is growing concern UK secret service agencies have been using information garnered by the CIA to get round a lack of legal permission to collect such information in the UK.

Last week Prime Minister David Cameron called for cross-party support on gaining access to social media sites on the internet, when he suggested there were ways this could be done without legislation.

This follows his coalition partners blocking the Data Communications Act, dubbed the snooper’s charter, which would have allowed the security services greater access to the personal internet accounts of people
suspecting of committing or planning to commit a crime.

Last night, Lib Dem MPs described the Prism allegations as “worrying”.

Edinburgh West MP Mike Crockart, a former senior policeman, said: “This does look suspicious. It could be seen as trying to get the snooper’s charter through the back door.”

And Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid said: “We are nervous about it. I am sure my worries are shared by my [Lib Dem]
colleagues. William Hague
needs to provide us with proper assurances.”

But Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, defended the sharing of intelligence between the US and UK.

He said: “If the United States authorities acquire a piece of intelligence that may save lives in the United Kingdom, we would expect that intelligence to be shared, whether it has been
obtained under United States law, which may not be compatible with our own, or not.”

Concerns are also expected to be raised by the intelligence and security committee when it visits Washington today.

Tory committee chairman
Sir Malcolm Rifkind said the delegation, which had been planned for some time, would not comment directly on the 

But he added: “We are expecting a report from GCHQ in the next two or three days and it is the responsibility of the committee to carry out investigations into the activities
of the intelligence services.”

In an interview yesterday, Mr Hague insisted that GCHQ had not broken the law.

He said: “The net effect is
that if you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and personal life, you have nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the content of your phone calls or anything like that.”


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