James Ball reports: The new chief of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, had two options when taking his post. As a relative outsider, joining the organisation from the Foreign Office, he could choose to strike a new, conciliatory tack in the post-Snowden surveillance debate – or he could defend the agency’s practices.
Barely six days into the job, Hannigan has signalled he will go with the latter. In a Financial Times opinion piece, he went much further than his predecessor’s valedictory address in pushing the traditional spy agency pro-surveillance agenda.
US technology giants, he said, have become “the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals”. Privacy “has never been an absolute right”. Even principles of free speech are terror aids: Isis are “capitalising on western freedom of expression”, he stated.
By the usually moribund rhetorical standards of senior UK intelligence officials, this is fiery stuff. But the agenda behind it is very much business as usual. The UK’s intelligence agencies take the approach that they will get little credit for protecting civil liberties, but would be on the receiving end of huge opprobrium were they to fail prevent an attack. As a result, they lobby successive governments every year for ever-more powers, a small step at a time. [Continue reading…]