Nick Clegg writes today in the Guardian under the headline: ‘Edward Snowden’s revelations made it clear: security oversight must be fit for the internet age.’
Until this week, the revelations published by the Guardian about the nature and extent of internet surveillance had provoked little reaction from British politicians. The quality of the debate in the US provides an unflattering contrast to the muted debate this side of the Atlantic.
Some of the revelations have described far-reaching intelligence-gathering capabilities. There are questions of principle here that require answers. Are such capabilities necessary and proportionate? Does the benefit to national security clearly outweigh the infringement of privacy? Are there proper checks and balances to guard against abuse? To ask these questions is not to question the good faith of those who work for the agencies. I have had the privilege of working with all three security services, and have nothing but praise for their professionalism.
I don’t doubt that they comply with the legal framework set for them by parliament. The issue is whether the rules we have set are fit for the internet age.
After discussing how the agencies currently work he concludes:
The intelligence and security committee needs reform – it is widely seen as being too deferential to the bodies it scrutinises. The coalition has recently given the committee more powers and resources, but we should go further. The membership of the committee should be expanded from nine to 11, to match the standard size of select committees.
The chair should in future be an opposition party member, to avoid accusations that the committee is too cosy with the government of the day. Hearings should be held wherever possible in public. Budgets should be set for five years ahead, to allow it the stability to plan a long-term work programme.
Finally, we should create an inspector general for the UK intelligence services, with reinforced powers, remit and resources. This would bring together two existing offices, the interception of communications commissioner, and the intelligence services commissioner.
You can read the full article here.
This morning Nick gave a speech on the same subject to the Royal United Services Institute . You can read the full text of his speech here.
* Mary Reid is the Monday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.