Former FM suggests British intelligence could have broken the law accessing NSA intel

The Guardian reports: [T]he former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said Britain’s electronic eavesdropping centre would have been in breach of the law if it asked for data about UK citizens without the approval of ministers

As the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, said he would challenge Hague to explain the legal basis on which GCHQ operated, Rifkind indicated that he would ask the US National Security Agency (NSA) about the matter this week.

Rifkind, the chairman of parliament’s security and intelligence committee, was speaking after Edward Snowden confirmed he leaked sensitive NSA documents to the Guardian. Snowden said these showed that US agencies had embarked on blanket monitoring of personal data from websites.

The documents suggested that GCHQ had generated 197 intelligence reports from the NSA-run Prism last year. The system would appear to allow GCHQ to bypass formal legal processes to access personal material, such as emails and photographs, from the world’s biggest internet companies.

Rifkind, who was responsible for overseeing GCHQ as foreign secretary between 1995 and 1997, said Snowden had broken the law. He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “If you work for an intelligence agency you are required, as are the rest of us, to obey the law of the land. Revealing classified information is normally a criminal offence and leads to various consequences.”

But he indicated that GCHQ might have also fallen foul of the law if it accepted information from the NSA on British citizens. “One of the big questions that is being asked is if British intelligence agencies want to seek to know the content of emails can they get round the normal law in the UK by simply asking an American agency to provide that information?” he said.

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