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Relax – Cameron says spy agencies acting entirely within the law

It was the Blairite press officer Jo Moore who in 20o1 on the day of 9/11 coined the infamous phrase: “This is a good day to bury bad news”. Cameron seems to have learnt the lesson when yesterday he used the furore over Maria Miller’s avarice and arrogance to quietly give a welcome to a report from the surveillance commissioner giving the all-clear to Britain’s spy agencies following the Snowden revelations.

In vintage Cameron style, just as he tried to smother the row swirling around Miller with cavalier bravado: “She’s apologised, done the right thing, and we should now move on”, so here he paraphrases the watchdog’s report as: “agencies undertake their role conscientiously and effectively, and public agencies do not engage in indiscriminate mass intrusion”. So that’s all right then, nothing to worry about.

This slippery eel of a Prime Minister purports not to see that in the 78 pages of the report, Sir Anthony May, the so-called watchdog, ignores the most crucial and devastating finding of the last year in this area of surveillance (a word that Cameron can’t bring himself to use), namely the existence of the Tempora programme run by the UK spooks (GCHQ and MI5) which hoovers up mountains of internet data without its operations ever having been admitted (before Snowden) or consented to.

In a word it reveals the spy agencies acting completely out of control and outside any system of accountability, which for some reason May (no relation of the home secretary) and Cameron never noticed. Nor does May or Cameron even address the huge controversies raised about the links between the spy agencies and the private internet and telephone companies.

One important new detail that emerges from the May report is the number of requests for information being loaded on the RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) system. It turns out to be enormous – 514,608 in the last year. May (a former judge) is supposed to oversee the warrants requested by the police and intelligence services, but that weight in numbers would mean his overseeing on average 1,410 a day.

So what proportion does he in practice oversee – even 1%, just 14 a day every day, would be quite a handful for a retired judge. But that still allows Cameron with his Panglossian insouciance to conclude: “I believe his report provides an authoritative, expert and reassuring assessment of the lawfulness, necessity and proportionality of the intelligence agencies’ work” (words presumably dictated to him by GCHQ). So at least we can all rest assured that our privacy is safe in Cameron’s hands.

2 Comments

  1. John Reid says:

    Jo Moore made. Mistake, what has this to do with this new law, so she was A Pa for Stephen Byers diesnt make her a Blairite

  2. Dave Roberts says:

    are they acting within the law or not? Accountability is a different matter.

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