The head of the UK’s spy agencies has said the monitoring of internet traffic is vital for stopping terrorist threats.
Speaking on Tuesday evening, the director general of the security services Andrew Parker (pictured) dismissed concerns that the UK has been engaging in blanket spying as “utter nonsense”, and said publishing information on spying techniques had provided terrorists with a "gift".
His comments come in the wake of the PRISM and Tempora spying revelations that broke earlier this year. These revealed that both US and UK spying organisations, such as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have been monitoring huge amounts of global internet traffic.
He said that the use of such techniques was vital to keep track of the latest terrorists as they use internet communications to plot terror attacks all the time.
“Technologies advance all the time. But MI5 will still need the ability to read or listen to terrorists' communications if we are to have any prospect of knowing their intentions and stopping them,” he said at the event hosted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“The converse to this would be to accept that terrorists should have means of communication that they can be confident are beyond the sight of MI5 or GCHQ acting with proper legal warrant. Does anyone actually believe that? “
He went on to justify any snooping by claiming it was only ever done for the public good and focused on those suspected of terrorism, rather than blanket monitoring citizens at large.
“Let me be clear – we only apply intrusive tools and capabilities against terrorists and others threatening national security. The law requires that we only collect and access information that we really need to perform our functions,” he said.
“In some quarters there seems to be a vague notion that we monitor everyone and all their communications, browsing at will through people's private lives for anything that looks interesting. That is, of course, utter nonsense.”
He also hit out at the leaks of confidential documents that laid bare the extent of the spying programme. He said publishing the information had put national security at risk.
“It causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques. Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will,” he said. “Unfashionable as it might seem, that is why we must keep secrets secret, and why not doing so causes such harm.”
Revelations around the spying programmes hit the headlines in June, after Edward Snowden leaked documents that revealed the existence and scope of the spying programmes.
This led to huge uproar among the tech and wider political landscape, and led to more revelations that the US had been spying on EU discussions and that many encryption technologies had been purposefully engineered to allow snoops easy access.
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