Friday, May 09, 2014


That's the UK Commons home affairs select committee's view of their country's oversight of its spies:

A highly critical report by the Commons home affairs select committee published on Friday calls for a radical reform of the current system of oversight of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, arguing that the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and parliament itself.

The MPs say the current system was designed in a pre-internet age when a person's word was accepted without question. "It is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley, not the 21st-century reality of the security and intelligence services," said committee chairman, Keith Vaz. "The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny. It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in parliament."

The cross-party report is the first British parliamentary acknowledgement that Snowden's disclosures of the mass harvesting of personal phone and internet data need to lead to serious improvements in the oversight and accountability of the security services.

They're calling for an elected Intelligence and Security Committee chaired by the opposition, full-time watchdogs, and greater transparency from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (which investigates complaints against spies). That's not enough to solve the problem - what is clearly needed is to shut down GCHQ entirely - but it is at least a start.