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The parliamentary inquiry announced into mass surveillance is a fraud

After all the Guardian’s efforts over the last several months (entirely properly in my view) to get the issue of mass surveillance on to the national agenda and to get it properly regulated to prevent systematic abuse, the paper’s sense of triumph in finally obtaining a parliamentary inquiry is in my view entirely misconceived. All that has been agreed is to extend the scope of ongoing enquiries already being undertaken by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

Just about everything is wrong with that. It is being undertaken by the very same committee which has proved such a pussycat in the hands of the spooks – just what it was intended to be of course by the establishment – and it is a foregone conclusion that the result will be unqualified approval for present arrangements, give or take some minor re-jigging to show how responsive the government and the security services are to popular disquiet. Worse, it is being led by the current ISC chairman, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the classic Tory establishment figure who wholly lacks independence because of his historical baggage – he was previously himself a foreign secretary responsible for MI6. A more stitched up committee it would be difficult to find.

The central question will be: where is the balance to be struck between ensuring the nation’s security is fully preserved and safeguarding citizens’ right to privacy and protection against arbitrary abuse of power? As if he wasn’t already badly compromised, Rifkind has recently vouchsafed to us his opinion that all the proper legal safeguards are in place, so there’s really nothing to worry about.

There’s nothing like having a committee and chair who’ve made up their mind before the inquiry starts. This is the same committee which never uncovered the massive illegal activities being undertaken under their noses by MI5/6 and GCHQ in their Tempora programme, which went along with the Home Office Communications Bill designed to legitimise GCHQ’s previously illegal activities, and which even when Tempora was exposed made no attempt to raise the alarm – quite the reverse, they sought to bury it.

As the Guardian has comprehensively set out, the catch-all phrase ‘national security’ has repeatedly over the last 40 years been used, not to protect the nation, but to cover up the government’s embarrassment – over the uncovering of GCHQ in 1976, Zircon and the BBC, communications intercepts, Spycatcher, Matrix Churchill, a SAS whistleblower, disclosure of White House minutes about bombing Iraq, Wikileaks, Guantanamo, and a plan to close half the rail network.

Unsurprisingly it is being used again by the enemies of freedom, those who will stop at nothing to prevent the dirty secrets of the State from being exposed. But to investigate all this we need a genuinely independent inquiry, not a trumped-up cabal.

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