GCHQ technology 'could be sold'

Image caption,
The work of cyber-security experts GCHQ is highly confidential

The government's secret listening post GCHQ could sell its technical expertise to the private sector under plans being considered by the government.

Security minister Baroness Neville-Jones said ministers were "thinking about" ways in which GCHQ could supply services to private firms.

"It's a live issue," she told the Commons science committee.

Scientists and cyber-security experts are employed at GCHQ, in Cheltenham, to monitor e-mail and phone traffic.

Their work has always been considered top secret, but committee chairman, Labour MP Andrew Miller, asked whether the government was considering the "radical" step of the commercialisation of products, working in partnership with the the private sector.

"You are taking me on to ground, chairman, that we are thinking about," Baroness Neville-Jones told the MPs, adding that there were "many ways Cheltenham could supply a service to the private sector".

But she said the government was still considering how that might be funded and what the relationship between private firms and this branch of the security services might be and she could not comment further at this stage.

The top secret Defence Evaluation and Research Agency was privatised by the previous government, and floated on the stock exchange in 2006 as Qinetiq. although the most sensitive parts of its work remained under government control.

The cutting edge cyber-security and computer research carried out at GCHQ could potentially generate cash for the government, although any moves to involve the private sector would have to be handled carefully due to the highly sensitive nature of the signals intelligence material it handles.

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