U.K. spy agency didn't break the law amid PRISM claims, MPs say

Summary:Signals intelligence agency GCHQ didn't break British laws when conducting its mass surveillance program in conjunction with the Americans, but MPs are instead looking at whether the laws should be updated.

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The U.K.'s parliamentary committee overseeing domestic intelligence matters said the U.K. signals intelligence agency GCHQ's involvement with the U.S. National Security Agency does not break British laws.

But, the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) says, the laws governing such actions should be thoroughly examined and updated if necessary.

In acknowledging the media reports relating to the NSA's mass surveillance program and its British counterpart GCHQ, the elephant in the room includes a very serious allegation: "namely that GCHQ acted illegally by accessing communications content via the PRISM programme."

The ISC said it would be a "matter of very serious concern" if the GCHQ access PRISM data by circumventing U.K. law — not limited to the Human Rights Act, the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) — as it would "constitute a serious violation of the rights of U.K. citizens."

"From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded," the report said in bold text.

Well that's settled, then.

Going into a little more detail, the ISC noted it was given "substantive reports" from GCHQ, including a list of counter-terrorist operations for which GCHQ was able to obtain intelligence from the U.S., the formal agreements that regulated access to this material (understood to be the UKUSA Agreement), and even a list of all the individuals who were "subject to monitoring via such arrangements" who were either believed to be in the U.K. or were identified as U.K. nationals.

The ISC also stated: "Further, in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place, in accordance with the legal safeguards contained in the [RIPA]."

From here, though, the ISC recommends detailed policies and changes to the current statutory laws governing access to private communications to ensure they are robust and watertight.

Recent reports from The Guardian and others hinted that RIPA was being taken advantage of, and does not contain "sufficient or proper safeguards against misuse that are known and available to the public," according to civil rights group Privacy International

While the ISC wants to ensure GCHQ's "compliance with their statutory obligations under the Human Rights Act of 1998," the U.K. government is currently under way with plans to abolish the Brussels dictated legislation, which stems from the European Convention on Human Rights.

The U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said the U.K.'s ability to "act in the national interest" was restricted.

Topics: Security, Government : UK

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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