British Foreign Secretary William Hague has denied that his country’s spies were using a controversial U.S. internet monitoring programme to dodge tough legal checks on their activities.
While Mr. Hague refused to confirm or deny allegations that emerged on Saturday regarding the country’s listening post -- Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) -- having links to the Prism spy scheme, but described them as “fanciful” and “nonsense”.
“As someone who knows GCHQ very well... the idea that in GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a U.K. law with another agency in another country is fanciful. It is nonsense,” he told the BBC, confirming that he would be making a statement to the House of Commons on the issue on Monday.
“The net effect is that if you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and personal life, you have nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the content of your phone calls or anything like that,” he added.
The U.K. government has come under pressure to respond to allegations that Prism has allowed GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process for obtaining personal material such as emails, photographs and videos, from internet companies based outside the U.K.
GCHQ is to report to MPs over the allegations surrounding its access to Prism, with Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) expecting the report by Monday.
The existence of the Prism system was disclosed in reports by the ‘Guardian’ and the ‘Washington Post’ and is believed to give America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI easy access to the systems of nine of the world’s top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.
All deny giving the government access to their servers.
GCHQ, referred to as the U.K. government’s eavesdropping agency based at Cheltenham, is said to have generated 197 intelligence reports through the system in the 12 months to May 2012 -- a 137 per cent increase on the previous year.
The agency has refused to comment directly on the reports, but in a statement insisted it operated within a “strict legal and policy framework”.