Martin Horwood MP on mass state surveillance: a case of principles for (GCHQ) votes?

Further to this article in the Gloucestershire Echo, here’s some recent correspondence with Martin Horwood’s office (which, inevitably, means David Fidgeon), arranged thematically for ease of reading…

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On G20 spying by GCHQ

Dear Martin,

The Echo article states:

“Mr Horwood said the intelligence hub answered to a Parliamentary committee, which had vowed to investigate the claims. But he said the listening post had acted legally.”

Are you saying that it is *legal* to spy on G20 delegates? Please clarify.

In regard to legality, all intercepts have to be legal and authorised by warrant and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 specified that each warrant had to ‘name or describe’ one person or set of premises. It also says:
‘The conduct authorised by an interception warrant shall be taken to include-
(a) all such conduct (including the interception of communications not identified by the warrant) as it is necessary to undertake in order to do what is expressly authorised or required by the warrant;
(b) conduct for obtaining related communications data.’

The law generally specifies that any actions thus allowed have to be ‘proportionate to what the action seeks to achieve’ (Intelligence Services Act 1994 5 (2), and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, also 5 (2) ).

David Fidgeon
Assistant to Martin Horwood MP
01242 224889

Are you implying that the interception of G20 delegates’ communications would have been covered by warrants? If so, how would you reconcile the issuing of such warrants with the principles of “necessity” and “proportionality” that – purportedly – underpin all of GCHQ’s interception activities? Are we to believe that the delegates of, say, Germany, posed a terrorist threat to the UK?

Yes, I am implying GCHQ activity is covered by warrants. I cannot sensibly comment on the detail of necessity and proportionality though in any particular case – that is a judgement for the Intelligence and Security committee.

All members of a democracy are entitled to comment on the necessity and proportionality of GCHQ spying, David. Just so I’m clear: is it your belief that the G20 delegates posed a “threat to national security”?
[On the issue of the ISC, I notice they have tasked themselves with investigating the “allegations” surrounding the Prism programme. Could I ask Martin to enquire on my behalf as to whether or not the ISC will also be investigating GCHQ’s Project Tempora?]

I am afraid I just don’t know.

[regards ISC] I will need to look into this this – not sure how much information the ISC gives on their investigations

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On bulk interception and storage of citizens’ private communications by GCHQ

Martin,

The Echo article goes on to quote you as follows:

“I don’t think it has come as a surprise they use phone lines and the internet to gather intelligence. It is quite proper that questions are asked, but that should be done in a private setting or else they cannot do their job. For this information to be put into the public domain is incredibly irresponsible and a threat to national security.”

As I understand matters, the information disclosed by Snowden reveals a tad more than this. Specifically, it reveals that NSA and GCHQ, via programmes Prism and Tempora, systematically (and almost certainly illegally, given current statutes) intercept and store colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by US and UK citizens.

Could you please explain how you reconcile invasion of privacy on this scale with the principles of “openness” and “transparency” that underpin so-called “liberal democracy”?

The accessing of mass data does not necessarily constitute an invasion of privacy of “ordinary” citizens. A computerised system might access the raw data and use some algorithm or process to refine that to a form or quantity accessible to human beings, who might then actively seek out the person whose communication they were looking for, and only then their actual communications content. No organisation could possibly be ‘intercepting’ 600 million communications in any meaningful sense. And it would indeed be unlawful if they did so.

Ok, just so I’m clear: if I were to intercept your post as it was being delivered to your home, copy it (without examining the content), then store it, you would *not* consider this an invasion of your privacy, right?

Tempting though it may be, I am not sure you can sensibly draw an analogy between a physical letter being opened by an individual and a bundle of data being electronically scanned.

The format of the communications is a red herring, David. What matters is that UK citizens’ private communications are being systematically intercepted, stored and scanned, without their consent. Do you/Martin agree that this represents an invasion of privacy?

Martin does not think that electronically scanning 600 million communications a day is an invasion of privacy

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On Ed Snowden and whistleblowing

The Echo article goes on to quote you as follows:

“I don’t think it has come as a surprise they use phone lines and the internet to gather intelligence. It is quite proper that questions are asked, but that should be done in a private setting or else they cannot do their job. For this information to be put into the public domain is incredibly irresponsible and a threat to national security.”

As I understand matters, the information disclosed by Snowden reveals a tad more than this. Specifically, it reveals that NSA and GCHQ, via programmes Prism and Tempora, systematically (and almost certainly illegally, given current statutes) intercept and store colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by US and UK citizens.

Could you please explain *how* disclosure of this mass surveillance system constitutes a “threat to national security”?

Disclosure of the activities and procedures of the security services is of potential use to those who threaten our security. Whistleblowers have internal and independent opportunities to blow their whistles discreetly, behind closed doors. Otherwise they are simply revealing things they have promised and agreed not to reveal, without any of the oversight or supervision required to make sure they are not damaging national security or even endangering peoples’ lives.

This is merely a reformulation of my question into a statement. *In what way* has the information published by The Guardian “threatened our security”? If you/Martin believe, for example, that the information has endangered people’s lives, please explain how/why, as it is anything but obvious.

Btw, on the issue of whistleblowers, I just caught Simon Hughes on Question Time saying that he supported the right to whistleblow, and that the Liberal Democrats as a party were *against* the “snoopers charter”, and more generally *against* handing further powers to the security services. This is at odds with what you’ve written above. Would you care to explain the discrepancy?

I don’t know if the information damaged national security, but as I say disclosure of the activities and procedures of the security services is of potential use to those who threaten our security. If you are ‘aggrieved by any conduct’ of the intelligence services you can take it to the Tribunal set up for the purpose (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, 65 (4).

I am afraid I gave up watching Question Time a long time ago and didn’t see Simon Hughes. In any case my email was a summary of Martin’s views on this, not necessarily Lib Dem policy.

But Martin didn’t say “potential threat”, he said “threat”. Can you confirm that he’ll be issuing a correction? And can you also confirm that he’ll be retracting the “totally irresponsible” charge, given it makes no sense alongside a merely abstract “threat to national security”?

[on Question Time] Oh I’m with you on QT – it’s a terrible programme that functions to buttress the status quo. Glad I caught Hughes’ comments though as they indicate the extent to which Martin has traded his liberal principles for (GCHQ) votes.

I don’t think he’ll be correcting or retracting.

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