The devil is in the devilly detail

On June 10th, the Foreign Secretary said this in Parliament:

“It has been suggested GCHQ uses our partnership with the United States to get around UK law, obtaining information that they cannot legally obtain in the UK. I wish to be absolutely clear that this accusation is baseless. Any data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards.”

Which was all fine and good. There are not many ‘right thinking people’ who would try to suggest that modern democracies should be free from the ability to use intelligence mechanisms etc to protect their publics and core interests, but with appropriate safeguarding.

But I am left perturbed by how the June statement (both in its literal translation and the spirit of it) tallies with the story in today’s Guardian titled: ‘US and UK struck secret deal to allow NSA to ‘unmask’ Britons’ personal data’.

If anyone is intellectually fleet of foot enough to square these two things away convincingly, answers on a postcard to the normal address.

(Whilst it’s easy to call for public inquiries… I do think this whole topic is lending itself to one. And one in which the questions aren’t necessarily notified in advance… The need for a public dialogue about where the activities sit with public expectation is certainly worthy of exploration. )


6 thoughts on “The devil is in the devilly detail

  1. davidbfpo says:


    Let us assume for a moment that the latest allegations are 100% true. Why should the allegations shock us in the UK?

    We are in a ‘special relationship’ with the USA, a significant part of which is the intelligence relationship, notably between GCHQ and NSA. As the intelligence focus adjusted to the “near enemy”, those cursed “parts of needles in multiple haystacks” and with a number of terrorist plots against the USA originating from the UK such a requirement for information should have been expected.

    Was the agreement between agencies? Were politicians consulted? We currently don’t know.

    Given the occasional threat from the extreme right / extreme nationalism etc which have some US links, one wonders did we get the same reciprocal access. It is a moot point whether the USG actually pays much attention to such people, despite Timothy McVeigh and others.

    You mention safeguards. As we now know the Whitehall-Westminster structure of oversight and accountability is currently under siege. Oddly enough, I am not a lawyer, your data might be better protected in the US legal system than here!

    • Rob Dover says:

      I know from advisory work I did on the PNR that if we were US citizens then our PNR data had very strong safeguards wrapped around it (the EU and EU states were not privy to the same access or rights). So you’re exactly right on that.

      I think the real nub is around the 3degrees of separation. The Guardian makes a calculation of this running into the millions for each warranted target. That’s a dragnet. And I guess my same point is that this strongly diverges from accepted understandings.

  2. John Dallman says:

    data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals

    That can be interpreted as “Data about UK nationals obtained while they were in the US”, as opposed to “Data obtained by the USgov about UK nationals in the UK, then then passed to the UKgov”. I remain suspicious.

    • Rob Dover says:

      I think the mechanism is:

      US obtain information about UK citizen, who is foreign. They can then pass this to the UK on the grounds that it was a justified collection of material about a foreigner.

  3. The Snowden documents prove that William Hague has lied and lied and lied to Parliament about “UK intelligence oversight”, which has been exposed as a joke and a farce. When lying to Parliament and Congress goes unpunished … then representative democracy is dead (Russell Brand style)? In these times it is only the “intelligence whistleblowers” and the conspiracy theorists who keep democracy alive and accountable.

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