Thursday, October 17, 2013

Whitewash and persecution in the UK

The UK Parliament is finally acting on the NSAleaks revelations, with the Intelligence and Security Committee announcing an inquiry into mass-surveillance:

The extent and scale of mass surveillance undertaken by Britain's spy agencies is to be scrutinised in a major inquiry to be formally launched on Thursday.

Parliament's intelligence and security committee (ISC), the body tasked with overseeing the work of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, will say the investigation is a response to concern raised by the leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the committee chair, said "an informed and proper debate was needed". One Whitehall source described the investigation as "a public inquiry in all but name".

But while it looks like they're acting, its worth remembering: ISC is GCHQ's permanent oversight - and thus permanently compromised. Quite apart from the establishment's natural interest in protecting its own, finding that GCHQ had broken the law would mean admitting that they had failed to do their jobs in overseeing it. And they're hardly likely to do that, are they?

Meanwhile, while the ISC is looking into the spies, another Select Committee will be holding an inquisition into The Guardian's publication of information about them. And they'll be doing this on the orders of the Prime Minister, in an explicit attempt to find out if they have broken the law. Which sounds like an executive Star Chamber to me.

In a democracy it is the job of the police to investigate criminal allegations, and the courts to judge them. It is not the job of Parliament. But I guess a kangaroo committee which can make things up as it goes along is far better for this sort of McCarthyite persecution than courts which have to actually follow the law.