UK foreign secretary: stop talking about Snowden, let spies get on with it

Philip Hammond told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that the debate about surveillance "cannot be allowed to run on forever."

Hammond warned that debating surveillance for too long would result in spy agencies "become distracted from their task."

"We need to have it, address the issues arising from it and move on, sooner rather than later, if our agencies are not to become distracted from their task."

The minister added that he, the prime minister and the home secretary are already "determined to draw a line under the debate" with legislation. This, he promised, will give the agencies the powers they need, and an oversight regime that appeases citizens.

A watering down of current practices looks unlikely, and Hammond said that the current system and its surveillance practices are in line with technology change and external threats.

"We are right to question the powers required by our agencies, and particularly by GCHQ, to monitor private communications in order to do their job. But we should not lose sight of the vital balancing act between the privacy we desire and the security we need," he said.

"From my position as foreign secretary, responsible for the oversight of GCHQ, 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 percentage of communications data that may be of any direct security interest, does not represent an enhancement of the agencies' powers," he said.

"Rather, it represents the adaptation of those powers to the realities of the 21st century."

Government minister is bored with Snowden and wants to get on with surveillance [Dave Neal/Inquirer]

(Image: Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP - Secretary of State for Transport, Amplified Group, CC-BY)

Notable Replies

  1. Christ, what an asshole

  2. If somebody in an ostensibly 'representative' position ever says that a debate 'cannot be allowed to run on', a giant comedy hammer should immediately descend from the ceiling and squish them.

    I realize that practice is...rather less noble... but debate isn't actually a 'little people making mouth noises and distracting Serious Authorities from Serious Business'; it's, y'know, what separates free societies from dictatorships with technocratic aspirations.

    It's perfectly possible to get lousy results from debate, of course; but if you lose sight of debate's value you simply aren't in a position to not get lousy results.

  3. The problem is in his (implicit; but not exactly covert) formulation of who will get to do the settling and how the settling will occur.

    Yes, unlimited wrangling without any resolution is not the favored outcome. However, his position is 'it's cute and all that people want to talk; but I've decided that what we are doing is just ducky; and it's time for them to admit that they've had their fun, shut up, and let me get back to doing what I want.'

    That's not a terribly satisfactory settlement. That's actual public debate being treated as a purely palliative sideshow, to be dropped as soon as it inconveniences the already-determined powers that be.

  4. If we don't let our spies violate our rights, they will loose their ability to effectively violate our rights... Is that the argument?

  5. What a moron. Part of making people feel heard before going on and doing what you were going to do anyway is not telling them that is what you are doing. This guy doesn't know how to machiavell (sic) right.

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