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Deputy PM calls for improved UK security surveillance transparency

Nick Clegg is calling for improved transparency and “strong, exacting, third-party oversight” of intelligence agencies in the UK.

The Deputy Prime Minister says that in light of recent disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden regarding mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and corresponding UK organisation GCHQ, it is crucial to establish the correct balance between privacy and national security.

An independent committee was commissioned by Clegg to review internet surveillance operations in the UK after Prime Minister David Cameron remained unconvinced that new regulations for the internet age are required.

The Royal United Services Institute will open the review, which according to Clegg, in an interview with the Guardian, will be supervised by “a panel of experts with backgrounds in technology, civil liberties, and intelligence work.”

Speaking about privacy and security in the internet age at the Royal United Services Institute, Clegg suggested that security agencies follow the example of private sector companies, the like of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, which according to the Telegraph publish annual transparency reports.

Such reports would need to include details of any requests made under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) for access to the communications data retained by telecoms companies and internet service providers, enabling visibility of which agencies request data and why.

Clegg commented: "Secrecy is essential for the agencies to conduct their operations but, if blanket secrecy becomes an unthinking default response, then public trust will suffer." The assumption should always be for openness where possible, secrecy where necessary."

In addition Clegg has called for greater supervision of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which in the past has been condemned for not holding UK intelligence agencies to account for being too familiar with the government.

He believes that privacy is fundamental to a free, unbiased and open society, but this is impossible if people live in fear of who might be keeping tabs on what they write, where they go or with whom they keep company.

In the Guardian article, Clegg expressed that his coalition partners are not yet in agreement with these ideas, but his fellow Lib Dems are determined to continue to advocate their introduction both within government and without.

By Andrew Miller

Image by Thinkstock

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