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)