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Tuesday, 08 October 2013 10:35

British cabinet not told about spying

Written by Nick Farrell

Need to know basis

Cabinet ministers and members of the national security council were told nothing about the existence and scale of the vast data-gathering programmes run by British and American intelligence agencies.

Chris Huhne, who was in the cabinet for two years until 2012, said ministers were in "utter ignorance" of Prism and Tempora. The former Liberal Democrat MP admitted he was stunned when he saw the files leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Huhne said that the state should not feel itself entitled to know, see and memorise everything that the private citizen communicates.

Writing in the Guardian, Huhne also questioned whether the Home Office had deliberately misled parliament about the need for the communications data bill when GCHQ, the government's eavesdropping headquarters, already had remarkable and extensive snooping capabilities. Huhne said that as a cabinet minister and member of the national security council (NSC), he should have been told about these operations, particularly as they were relevant to proposed legislation.

But the cabinet was told nothing about GCHQ's Tempora or its US counterpart, the NSA's Prism, nor about their extraordinary capability to hoover up and store personal emails, voice contact, social networking activity and even internet searches. He was not even sure if the prime minister or the foreign secretary (who has oversight of GCHQ) were briefed.

Huhne said that throughout his time in parliament, the Home Office was trying to persuade politicians to invest in 'upgrading' Britain's capability to recover data showing who is emailing and phoning whom. It seems that GCHQ was already doing this so the question was who the Home Office trying to mislead?

Nick Farrell

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