In 1966, UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson told MPs that the UK spy agencies weren't allowed to tap their phones and that if that changed, he'd tell them about it first. In 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair asserted that this applied to electronic communications. This Monday, UK Home Secretary Theresa May asserted that the "Wilson Doctrine" still applied to MPs. Then, on Wednesday, the investigatory powers tribunal ruled that this was all rubbish.
According to the IPT, the Wilson Doctrine is "a political statement in a political context, encompassing the ambiguity that is sometimes to be found in political statements," without legal force, and that MPs were fair game for spying by GCHQ.
The tribunal tried to assure MPs by saying that they had the same statutory protections from GCHQ spying as other Britons, but any fule no that there are no meaningful protections for Britons when it comes to GCHQ spying. I wonder if the tribunal member who wrote that line sniggered a little.
MPs — including Tory MPs who are currently outraged over this matter, and Labour MPs who let Tony Blair kick off the mass surveillance project in the last decade — have been completely OK with the idea that the entire nation would be put under close, permanent scrutiny to a degree that would have shamed the Stasi. Now that they aren't exempted from this spying, they're making noises about reforming the rules for domestic spying.
My guess: they'll end up with a Merkel Compromise: the Members will get some (bland, insincere) assurance that the spooks are going to be super-duper careful about spying on them, personally, and in exchange, they'll let the spooks continue to harvest all of our data.
No 10 welcomed the court ruling and denied that the Wilson doctrine had misled MPs by giving the impression that their phone and email exchanges were protected from the British security services when in reality they were not. It insisted that the intelligence services understood they could only use their powers to tap phones in a proportionate way, and there were safeguards in place.
Downing Street described the Wilson doctrine first expressed in 1966 as a political statement, without legal force, and pointed out that the intelligence agencies might be monitoring an individual who was in contact with an MP.
It refused to say whether any MPs' phones, either at Westminster or in their constituencies, were being currently being monitored by the intelligence agencies.
GCHQ can monitor MPs' communications, court rules
[Owen Bowcott , Ian Cobain and Rowena Mason/The Guardian]