Shhhh… don’t mention “Tempora”!

When my MP, Martin Horwood, refused (repeatedly) to put the relevant questions to the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, there seemed no option but to cut out the middle-man… Viva democracy! 😉

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Dear Malcolm Rifkind,

This is a note directed to you in your capacity as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a position that makes you accountable to the entire electorate.

I have a couple of questions, please:

1. The Daily Mail quotes you as follows: “In general, Snowden’s behaviour has been hugely irresponsible“. Could you explain why you prefaced this opinion with “in general”? Does this mean you believe *specific* aspects of Snowden’s behaviour haven’t been so irresponsible? If so, which bits?

2. The Guardian has revealed that GCHQ believes the UK’s regulatory regime to be a “selling point” to the NSA? A key part of this regulatory regime is obviously the committee you chair, the I&SC. How do you feel about this?

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your email dated 4 August 2013 to the Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, in his capacity as Chairman of the Intelligence. and Security ,Committee of Parliament (ISC). I am replying on his behalf.

As you will know, public comment on intelligence and national security issues, by its very nature, can rarely be detailed and specific. Sir Malcolm will have used “in general” simply to avoid confirming or denying any particular allegation raised by Mr Snowden. Sir Malcolm has also made clear that the unauthorised and irresponsible leaking of classified intelligence documents can provide information that would help those planning terrorist acts to avoid detection.

Turning to your second point, I will not comment on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ. However, the UK’s regulatory regime for its intelligence and security Agencies includes numerous safeguards, including the appointment of members of the judiciary as intelligence commissioners as well as the parliamentary oversight conducted by the ISC. This year, the Justice and Security Act strengthened and extended the powers and independence of the ISC. These reforms have given the ISC even greater authority to carry out oversight of the intelligence and security Agencies, including scrutiny of their operational activities.

ISC Secretariat

Many thanks.

I’d like to submit a related query if I may, as follows:

Further to its recent investigations into the NSA’s “Prism” programme, can you confirm whether the ISC will also be investigating GCHQ’s “Tempora” programme?

For info, I asked my MP (Martin Horwood) to make this enquiry on my behalf some weeks back, but his office refuses to respond on the matter. I therefore have little choice but to submit the enquiry direct.

Best regards,

Joe

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your further email of 30 August 2013, asking an additional question about the investigations being carried out by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC).

I can only re-iterate that I will not comment specifically on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ. However, the Committee has announced that it is considering further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications, including internet-based communications, remains adequate. The Committee will therefore be examining further the complex interaction between the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the policies and procedures that underpin them.

ISC Secretariat

Many thanks. I have two additional follow-ups, which I’m sure you’ll be only too willing to address given interactions like this are the lifeblood of democracy.

1. You say that you “will not comment specifically on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ”. Why, then, did the ISC see fit to publically comment on GCHQ’s use of intelligence gained through “Prism” – another clandestine and highly controversial SIGINT programme, details of which were revealed by Edward Snowden? It would seem entirely inconsistent to comment on one programme (Prism), but not the other (Tempora).

2. You say that the ISC will be “considering whether the statutory framework governing access to private communications, including internet-based communications, is adequate”. Does not the intelligence watchdog within a democratic state have a more substantive responsibility to pass judgement on whether a heretofore clandestine mass surveillance programme is ethical/moral, as distinct from merely legal?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Joe Sucksmith

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