The government wants to "draw a line" under the debate around surveillance and monitoring by the UK’s spy agencies to allow them to focus on their work free from distractions.
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said that, while he recognised that the questions raised by the Snowden revelations of 2013 required examination, it has gone on for long enough.
He said that the forthcoming publication of reports by the Intelligence and Security Committee and David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, should serve as the final chapter in this story.
“Both of these inquiries have had full and unfettered access to the work of the agencies and I look forward to reading their conclusions. But I am also clear that this debate cannot be allowed to run on forever,” he said.
“We need to have it, address the issues arising from it and move on, sooner rather than later, if our agencies are not to become distracted from their task.”
Hammond also said that the government will update the rules around data monitoring and collection after the election.
“The prime minister, the home secretary and I are determined that we should draw a line under the debate by legislating early in the next parliament to give our agencies, clearly and transparently, the powers they need, and to ensure that our oversight regime keeps pace with technological change and addresses the reasonable concerns of our citizens,” he said.
Hammond also made plain his belief that the work of GCHQ is vital for national security.
“I am quite clear that the ability to intercept 'bulk communications data', to subject that metadata to electronic analysis and to extract the tiny percentage of communications data that may be of any direct security interest does not represent an enhancement of the agencies’ powers; rather, it represents the adaptation of those powers to the realities of the 21st century.”
The comments come as new revelations from the Snowden documents suggest that the CIA has attempted to crack Apple security policies for years to access iPhones and iPads.
The CIA is also planning to increase its use of digital and cyber data and insights to improve its work.
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