The minister responsible for the oversight of GCHQ has today defended the interception of bulk communications data, saying it does not amount to mission creep by Blighty's intelligence agencies.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was necessary to address public concerns about the regulatory framework and the powers that govern their activities.
Hammond made the comments in a wide-ranging speech on security and intelligence, which also criticised 'Jihadi John' apologists and warned that Russia could pose the single biggest threat to UK security.
Hammond said there will always be a tension between giving agencies reasonable access to information and the legitimate concern of law-abiding people to protect their private communications.
"I am quite clear that the ability to intercept 'bulk communications data', to subject that metadata to electronic analysis and to seek to extract the tiny, tiny percentage of communications data that may be of any direct security interest does not represent an enhancement of the agencies’ powers. Rather, it represents the adaptation of those powers to the realities of the 21st Century," he said.
"But I am also conscious, in the wake of the Snowden allegations and in the light of upcoming parliamentary and other inquiries, including the work being done here at RUSI, that we will need to address public concerns about the transparency of the regulatory framework and the powers contained within it," he said.
Hammond said the forthcoming reports on security and privacy from Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, and the government’s independent reviewer of terrorist legislation David Anderson, will make an important contribution to the debate.
"Both of these inquiries have had full and unfettered access to the work of the agencies and I look forward to reading their conclusions. But I am also clear, that this debate cannot be allowed to run on forever," he said.
He said the government was determined to "draw a line under the debate" by legislating early in the next parliament". ®