GCHQ use of Prism surveillance data was legal, says report

Prism is a US intelligence gathering programme Image copyright Reuters
Image caption MPs analysed GCHQ reports produced with US intelligence

UK security services did not break the law in accessing personal data through the US Prism programme, a parliamentary committee has said.

It had been alleged that data-gathering centre GCHQ circumvented the law to gain information on UK citizens.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) reviewed the GCHQ reports produced with US intelligence.

The ISC said the evidence showed that any intelligence sought had "conformed with GCHQ's statutory duties".

Prism is a programme through which the US Government obtains intelligence material - such as communications - from Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Details of the highly classified programme run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) were leaked by former US intelligence analyst, Edward Snowden.

Now wanted by the US, Mr Snowden is in Russia where he has applied for temporary asylum.

The ISC, chaired by former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, took detailed evidence from GCHQ for its investigation, including a list of counter-terrorist operations for which the UK was able to obtain intelligence from the US.

It also examined a list of 'selectors' (such as email addresses) that requested information on a list of UK nationals or individuals who were under surveillance in such operations.

The committee, which reports directly to the Prime Minister who also chooses its members, then looked at a number of UK intelligence reports that were produced as a result of this activity.

In a statement on the allegations against GCHQ, the ISC said: "The legal authority for this is contained in the Intelligence Services Act 1994."

The Director of GCHQ, Sir Iain Lobban, was questioned "in detail" by the committee, it said.

Members of the committee also met the US National Security Agency (NSA) and their Congressional counterparts to discuss Prism on a recent trip to the US.

The ISC added that in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception - signed by a minister - was "already in place".

'Complex interaction'

While the committee found that GCHQ had acted within the law, it expressed concern that legal frameworks in some areas were expressed in "general terms".

"More detailed policies and procedures have, rightly, been put in place around this work by GCHQ", in order to comply with the Human Rights Act, it said.

The next step for the ISC was to further examine the "complex interaction" between the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the policies and procedures that underpin them.

Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the committee's findings. He said: "I see daily evidence of the integrity and high standards of the men and women of GCHQ. The ISC's findings are further testament to their professionalism and values.

"It will continue to have the full co-operation of the government and the security and intelligence agencies."

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