Most Britons have 'nothing to fear' from surveillance: FM

9th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

Law-abiding Britons have "nothing to fear" from state surveillance, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday as he sought to calm concerns over the US government's secret monitoring of Internet users.

The opposition Labour party has demanded clarification of reports that Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ had used the US data and in doing so, may have circumvented British legal processes.

Hague said: "What people need to know is that intelligence gathering in this country by the United Kingdom is governed by a very strong legal framework, so that we get the balance right between the liberties and the privacy of people and the security of the country."

He added: "If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country, going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear.

"Nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agents listening to the contents of your phonecalls or anything like that."

Hague said it was right however that parliament's intelligence and security committee was taking a fresh look at GCHQ's activities, and said he would make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday.

Details emerged in US and British media this week of America's secret PRISM programme, which allows security agents access to emails, online chats, pictures, files and videos uploaded by users of US Internet companies.

Hague said he could not confirm or deny what Britain knew about the surveillance tools of the United States, its closest intelligence partner.

"It's secret for a reason, and a reason that is to do with protecting all the people in this country," he said.

But he said GCHQ had "very high standards of legal compliance" and said any surveillance operations by them or the MI6 and MI5 spy agencies had to be personally approved by either himself or Home Secretary Theresa May.

"Every request comes with clear legal advice and the justification for any interception," he said.

"Our decisions are subject to continual review by an interception commissioner, and our work is subject to the scrutiny by the cross-party intelligence and security committee."

While law-abiding citizens should not be concerned, Hague said those with criminal intentions should be.

"If you are a would-be terrorist, or at the centre of a criminal network, or a foreign intelligence agency trying to spy on Britain, you should be worried," he said.

"Because that is what we work on and we are on the whole quite good at it."


© 2013 AFP

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