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PRISM: David Davis says UK laws to protect citizens from surveillance are ‘completely useless'

28 Jun 2013
The Houses of Parliament in London

The processes in place to protect UK citizens from surveillance by spy agencies such as GCHQ have been branded ‘completely useless' by former shadow home secretary and MP David Davis.

Speaking in the House of Commons at a session on the PRISM and Tempora revelations of the past few weeks, Davis said that it was clear from the level of data claimed to have been gathered by GCHQ that UK citizens had little protection from data-gathering technologies.

"The supervision procedures are completely useless - not just weak, but completely useless," he said at the committee event, attended by V3. "What Tempora has done is raise a red flag that we have to rethink, from scratch, all the oversight arrangements we have."

Davis said he, like everyone else, was only learning about these issues as they are being brought to light by whistleblowers, and said it was unclear why exactly the UK spy agencies were willing to hand so much data to the US. He laid out two main possibilities.

The first, he said, was as a ‘big chip' replacement for the intel the UK used to be able to provide to the US authorities from areas like Hong Kong and Cyprus, areas where the UK's influence has now waned.

The second, he said, was simply to provide information to the US in return for data from across the pond. This would be a "loophole" by which the UK could gather data on its citizens without directly doing so.

Looking to the future, Davis said one silver lining of the uproar from the revelations about PRISM and Tempora is that the Communications Data Bill, the so-called Snoopers' Charter, is unlikely to see the light of day for at least a year, despite calls for its return in the aftermath of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

"In the last five days a number of people [other MPs] who were huge sceptics about all this sort of thing have said to me, ‘maybe you are right', so we've probably seen it off for a year or so," he said. "After Woolwich there were calls that perhaps we need it [the Communications Data Bill] but MI5 themselves have admitted it would have made no difference, and it would probably cause more incidents as they'd be wasting time in databases rather than tracking people."

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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