FOREIGN Secretary Hague yesterday refused to confirm or deny that GCHQ ‘circumvented the law’ to gather data on British citizens, only describing such claims as ‘fanciful nonsense’.
Hague is to give a statement to Parliament on the allegations today, where questioning over UK access to the American Prism snooping system will intensify.
Prism gives America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI access to the systems of top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.
Yesterday, Hague refused to confirm that Prism has enabled GCHQ to circumvent the legal process for obtaining personal material on British citizens, such as emails, photographs and videos.
GCHQ is to report to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) on the matter today.
GCHQ, based at Cheltenham, is said to have generated 197 intelligence reports through the system in the 12 months to May 2012 – a 137% increase on the previous year.
Prism was established in 2007 under changes to US surveillance laws passed under President Bush and renewed last year by Obama, to provide surveillance on live communications and stored information on foreigners overseas.
Speaking on the BBC Andrew Marr show yesterday, Hague refused to say whether he had personally authorised GCHQ to engage with Prism.
‘Of course we share a lot of information with the United States,’ Hague admitted, ‘That’s been the case since the Second World War; the US and the UK have an exceptional intelligence-sharing relationship.’
The BBC interviewer responded: ‘Okay. Did you know about Prism then?’
Hague replied: ‘Well I don’t – I can’t ever – confirm or deny in public what Britain knows about and what Britain doesn’t.’
She tried again: ‘Are you going to be able to tell the British public full stop, whether or not Prism exists and whether or not you have been getting information on British citizens from it?’
Hague replied: ‘No we can talk about the framework in which we do things and we can give people the assurances about how that works. We can’t possibly go into “did we exactly do this or did we exactly do that?” ’
She tried again: ‘But if Prism is being used, it looks like you are getting round the legal structures that are in place, because you can get that information, you can get information from GCHQ about people and companies, but you have to apply for it.
‘It looks like for two or three years, you have been getting information without legally applying for it.’
Hague replied: ‘Well sometimes when people get partial information about what is really a vast complex picture, all sorts of things can look true or untrue.’
The BBC reporter said: ‘We read that there were 197 requests for information prompted and you would have authorised all of those.’
Hague replied: ‘I cannot possibly confirm or deny those things.’
Guy Herbert, General Secretary of NO2ID, told News Line: ‘It’s extraordinary that essentially intelligence services are completely unaccountable.
‘If they are making use of American intelligence sources, then it isn’t sufficient for them blandly to say they operate within the law; they should say which laws they are operating in.
‘I hope that in Parliament tomorrow somebody asks him this: “Have you issued warrants for this to be done?” ’