Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Further MP response on Snowden

I've had another response from my MP, Nicola Blackwood, this time to my admittedly somewhat caustic critique of Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister of State, Hugh Robertson's, letter on the oversight of intelligence and security services. It appears as though she has misinterpreted the tone of that post and rapidly retreated behind the shield of the government mantra on the Snowden affair:
"Dear Mr Corrigan,
Thank you for your further email about intelligence services and I apologise for the lengthy delay in my response.
I am sorry to learn that you were disappointed by the Minister's response, and having read your blog I understand that you feel the Minister did not address the point at hand and you are disappointed that he is unable to comment on specific intelligence matters. I do apologise that I cannot offer any further information than the Minister, but I would stress that the UK has one of the world's strongest legal and regulatory frameworks governing the use of secret intelligence. UK legislation is fully compatible with the right to privacy in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Our secret intelligence agencies are subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and additional UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and robust oversight mechanisms including the Intelligence Security Committee and the Interception of Communications Commissioner.
You also ask how many constituents contacted me on this debate, I can tell you that 15 constituents in total wrote to me to ask that I attend the debate on 31st October. Unlike yourself, other constituents who had contacted me on this issue had done so in the form of a campaign template email. Thank you again for contacting me, I hope this response is helpful.
Kind regards
I've further responded as follows:
I fear the sardonic nature of my blogpost criticising the Minister's response may have led you to misreading it. It doesn't ask anywhere that the Minister should comment on specific intelligence matters. It does ask essentially, as did the FT in its editorial earlier this week, as do a multitude of security and legal experts with a deep understanding of the technology and the law, that Edward Snowden’s revelations be understood and acted upon, since they raise important questions about surveillance in a free society. As I said to you before, since Entick v Carrington in 1765, fishing expeditions of the type that the GCHQ and NSA are engaged in have been considered to fundamentally undermine the rule of law. It's time Parliament brought these modern practices into line with that rule of law.
Your stressing of the government line that 'the UK has one of the world's strongest legal and regulatory frameworks governing the use of secret intelligence' and the UK intelligence services are subject to 'robust oversight mechanisms' is, I'm afraid, in direct contradiction to the evidence. Academics do have a rather irritating affinity for evidence.:-) A senior legal adviser to GCHQ has noted "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US". The members of the Intelligence Security Committee do not understand the technologies and do not have the resources to do the oversight job expected of them. Only last week Jemina Stafford QC, in a formal legal opinion for a parliamentary committee, declared GCHQ's mass data collection activities to be illegal and to have been signed off by ministers in breach of human rights and surveillance laws.
I could go on but suspect your retreat into a repetition of the government mantra on the affair means you have already disengaged.
Thanks for letting me know 15 constituents contacted you to ask you to attend the parliamentary debate on the 31st October. It would be disappointing if you were to give limited credence to those who decided to use the internet and a campaign template email to communicate with you on this or any other matter. I appreciate you probably deal with a large number of communications but it would be sad to return to the Blairite days of officially counting more than 10,000 [sic] objections to the proposed ID card scheme as a single response because they were coordinated through an internet facilitated campaign.
I would make one final point before signing off. Law enforcement, intelligence and security services need to be able to move with the times. They need to use modern digital technologies intelligently in their work and through targeted data preservation regimes – not the mass surveillance regime they are currently operating – engage in technological surveillance of individuals about whom they have reasonable cause to harbor suspicion. That is not, however, the same as building an infrastructure of mass surveillance which, incidentally, in addition to being a clear and present danger to democracy, makes it mathematically impossible for dedicated intelligence services staff to do their job with any degree of effectiveness.
Thanks for taking the time to respond again but it would appear that we are settling on different sides of the fence on the Snowden affair.

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