UK 'complacent' over mass surveillance revelations

A handout picture released by the MoD shows an aerial view of GCHQ in Cheltenham taken on September 2, 2004. Surveillance by Britain's GCHQ has been the subject of some of the reports

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British politicians have shown "complacency" about revelations of mass surveillance by the security services, the editor of the Guardian has said.

Alan Rusbridger said both Labour and the Conservatives "feel compromised" by the information revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The foreign secretary said he had seen no evidence of privacy law breaches.

US President Barack Obama is set to announce new restrictions on the collection of phone records later.

Foreign Secretary William Hague's comments followed new allegations revealed by the Guardian and Channel Four News about a National Security Agency (NSA) programme that has collected and stored almost 200 million text messages per day across the globe.

The programme extracted and stored data from the SMS messages to gather location information, contacts and financial data, according to the Guardian and Channel Four.

'World's strongest system'

Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he could not address those specific allegations, but said the UK had "very strong legal checks and balances" requiring warrants from himself or the home secretary to intercept the content of the communications of anyone within the United Kingdom.

"That system is not breached," he said. "I've never seen anything to suggest that system is breached.

"We have perhaps the strongest system in the world, in which not only do I and the home secretary oversee these things, there are then commissioners - the interception of communications commissioner, for instance - who oversee our work and report to the prime minister on how we do that."

However, Mr Rusbridger claimed the American NSA liked working in the UK because of the "light legal regime".

How intelligence is gathered

How intelligence is gathered
  • Accessing internet company data
  • Tapping fibre optic cables
  • Eavesdropping on phones
  • Targeted spying

He told the Today programme: "Here, there's been barely a whisper from Westminster.

"I think they are closing their eyes and hoping it will go away. But it's not going to go away, because it's impossible to reform the NSA without that having a deep knock-on effect on what our own intelligence services do."

He said the leaks by former intelligence contractor Mr Snowden - who has been granted asylum by Russia - compromised both main political parties.

"Labour are not keen to get involved because a lot of this stuff was done on their watch," he said.

"That of course has raised the whole question of oversight. We have a parliamentary committee with a tiny budget of £1m overseeing the three agencies [the intelligence service MI6, security service MI5 and communications monitor GCHQ] with over £2bn.

"I just don't believe they've got the technological expertise or the resource to look into this."

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