[Guardian] Exclusive: Edward Snowden papers show UK spy agency fears legal challenge if scale of surveillance is made public
The UK intelligence agency GCHQ has repeatedly warned it fears a “damaging public debate” on the scale of its activities because it could lead to legal challenges against its mass-surveillance programmes, classified internal documents reveal.
Memos contained in the cache disclosed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden detail the agency’s long fight against making intercept evidence admissible as evidence in criminal trials – a policy supported by all three major political parties, but ultimately defeated by the UK’s intelligence community.
Foremost among the reasons was a desire to minimise the potential for challenges against the agency’s large-scale interception programmes, rather than any intrinsic threat to security, the documents show.
The papers also reveal that:
• GCHQ lobbied furiously to keep secret the fact that telecoms firms had gone “well beyond” what they were legally required to do to help intelligence agencies’ mass interception of communications, both in the UK and overseas.
• GCHQ feared a legal challenge under the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act if evidence of its surveillance methods became admissable in court.
• GCHQ assisted the Home Office in lining up sympathetic people to help with “press handling”, including the Liberal Democrat peer and former intelligence services commissioner Lord Carlile, who this week criticised the Guardian for its coverage of mass surveillance by GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.