The British government on Monday insisted that its intelligence agencies “operate within law” as the row intensified over allegations that they had been colluding with American authorities to collect personal data of millions of Internet users.
While refusing to confirm or deny that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had access to the controversial American spy programme, PRISM, Prime Minister David Cameron said intelligence services were subject to “proper scrutiny” by Parliament and that it was doing a “fantastic job”.
“They are intelligence services that operate within the law... They are also subject to proper scrutiny by the Intelligence and Security Committee in the House of Commons. That scrutiny is important and I will make sure that it takes place,” he said.
Mr. Cameron, who is under pressure to order an independent investigation into what is rapidly growing into a full-blown scandal, declined to comment on former CIA employee Edward Snowden’s claims about illegal surveillance.
“I cannot give a running commentary on intelligence issues….I’m satisfied that we have intelligence agencies that do a fantastic job to keep us safe and operate within the law.”
Mr. Cameron said it was important to remember why Britain had intelligence agencies and “what they do for us”.
“We live in a dangerous world. We live in a world of terror and terrorism as we saw on the streets of Woolwich only too recently and I think it is right that we have well-funded and well-organised intelligence services to keep us safe,” he said referring to the killing of a serving soldier in the London suburb of Woolwich.
The government was “satisfied” that British intelligence services “operate within a legal framework”.
“They also operate within a framework that is open to proper scrutiny,” he said.
Later, Foreign Secretary William Hague made a statement in the House of Commons along similar lines but MPs were not satisfied. The statement followed calls for him to explain how much the government’s knew about GCHQ’s covert activities. He said the “law-abiding” citizens had nothing to fear.