GCHQ speaks out about its intelligence and security mission in the Internet age

The Government’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, made an unprecedented statement this week about its plans for monitoring of UK web and comms traffic.

May 7, 2009
By Paul Jacques
Dr Sarah Wallace

The Government’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, made an unprecedented statement this week about its plans for monitoring of UK web and comms traffic.

It follows Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s announcement last week about new measures to maintain the capability of public authorities to obtain access to communications data, coupled with public concern over a £1 billion project at GCHQ’s Cheltenham headquarters to develop state-of-the-art interception technology.

Publishing its consultation – Protecting the public in a changing communications environment – the Government explicitly ruled out setting up a single store of all communications data.

And in its statement, GCHQ said it has “no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain”.

The consultation outlines ways to collect and retain communications data and seeks views on how to strike the right balance between privacy and security.

The system the Government is proposing is based on the current model where communications service providers (CSPs) collect and store the data with strict and effective safeguards in place to regulate access by public authorities.

The statement from GCHQ said: “GCHQ is heavily-dependent on technology in order to execute our global missions. An increasingly rapidly changing digital world demands speedy innovation in our technical systems, allowing us to operate at Internet pace, as the information age allows our targets to.

“One of our greatest challenges is maintaining our capability in the face of the growth in Internet-based communications and voice over internet telephony. We must reinvest continuously to keep up with the methods that are used by those who threaten the UK and its interests. Just as our predecessors at Bletchley Park mastered the use of the first computers, today, partnering with industry, we need to master the use of Internet technologies and skills that will enable us to keep one step ahead of the threats.

“This is what mastering the Internet is about. GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all Internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK.

“Because we rely upon maintaining an advantage over those that would damage UK interests, it is usually the case that we will not disclose information about our operations and methods. People sometimes assume that secrecy comes at the price of accountability but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, GCHQ is subject to rigorous Parliamentary and judicial oversight and works entirely within a legal framework that complies with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The statement added: “The new technology that GCHQ is developing is designed to work under the existing legal framework. It is an evolution of current capability within current accountability and oversight arrangements. The Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 underpin activities at GCHQ – both existing systems and those we are planning and building at the moment. The purposes for which interception may be permitted are set out explicitly in the legislation: national security, safeguarding our economic well being and the prevention and detection of serious crime.

“Interception for other purposes is not lawful and we do not do it. GCHQ does not target anyone indiscriminately – all our activities are proportionate to the threats against which we seek to guard and are subject to tests on those grounds by the commissioners. The legislation also sets out the procedures for ministers to authorise interception; GCHQ follows these meticulously. GCHQ only acts when it is necessary and proportionate to do so; GCHQ does not spy at will.”

Speaking last week, Ms Smith explained: “Communications data and intercept intelligence are essential tools in 95 per cent of the most serious crime investigations in the UK.

“Any significant reduction in the capability of law

Related News

Select Vacancies

Sergeants and Detective Sergeants

Metropolitan Police Service

Police Sergeant Transferee

Merseyside Police

Police Officer Transferee

Merseyside Police

Copyright © 2024 Police Professional