British citizens should not be alarmed by reports of the UK government accessing an American spying programme provided they are “law-abiding”, William Hague has said.
The foreign secretary offered a very qualified reassurance to UK citizens following newspaper reports that GCHQ, the British government’s Cheltenham-based eavesdropping and security agency, had been receiving intelligence from a US programme called Prism.
US government officials have insisted there have been “significant misimpressions” about Prism, which reportedly uses personal material like photos, emails and videos held by internet companies.
Obtaining such information from the US could circumvent existing British law prohibiting these kinds of measures, which civil liberties campaigners are already opposing in home secretary Theresa May’s ‘snoopers’ charter’ proposals.
Hague refused to confirm or deny whether the UK government had received any intelligence from the US obtained via Prism.
He said it was “fanciful” and “nonsense” to suggest that GCHQ staff spend their time working on how to “circumvent” UK laws.
“Intelligence gathering in this country is governed by a very strong legal framework… that provides not for trawling through people’s contents phone calls, it provides for intelligence gathering which is authorised, necessary, proportionate and targeted on what we really need to know,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls.”
The foreign secretary will face questions from MPs tomorrow afternoon after making a statement to the Commons on the issue.
“I’ve said that it’s right that we fully support our intelligence agencies in the work they do to keep us safe, while recognising that they must always operate within a framework of legality and accountability,” shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said.
He said he would ask Hague to clarify the role of the Foreign Office in overseeing the legal frameworks which control GCHQ.
“William Hague must also inform the House of what steps he will take to support the work of the intelligence and security committee as it looks in to these matters,” Alexander added.
“It is vital that the government now reassures people who are rightly concerned about these reports.”
Syria recall promised
In a separate development, Hague used the interview to confirm parliament would be recalled to approve military action in Syria if the British government decides to arm Syrian rebels.
Hague confirmed “there will be a vote one way or the other” and sought to reassure MPs worried that a move could take place during a period of parliamentary recess.
“If we were making such a decision and it was very controversial, there would be a huge demand for the recall of parliament,” he said.
“I can be very reassuring to MPs about this.”
daily alternative | alternative news – Don’t worry about being spied on – as long as you’re ‘law-abiding’