Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted that he has seen no evidence of breaches in the UK’s protection of the privacy of individuals’ communications, following reports that British spies are able to look at texts scooped up in a secret operation which collects hundreds of millions of messages.
The allegations, resulting from the latest leaks by former US spy Edward Snowden, were made by Channel 4 News and The Guardian, who have seen a classified 2011 presentation discussing Dishfire, a secret database created by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that collects nearly 200 million texts every day from around the world.
Reports suggested that Dishfire stores the messages for future use and British spies – who face tough laws restricting interception of communications in the UK – have been given a back door to exploit that information.
Mr Hague declined to comment directly on the new allegations, but told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I set out in June, when these controversies first arose, the position in the United Kingdom, the very, very strong legal checks and balances that we have in the UK.
“I’m not going to comment on the detail of any allegations or leaks or alleged leaks. I can’t possibly do that. But I can say what I said on June 10 to Parliament about our legal system, about the very strong system of checks and balances, of warrants being required from me or the Home Secretary to intercept the content of the communications of anyone within the United Kingdom.
“That system is not breached. I’ve never seen anything to suggest that system is breached. We have perhaps the strongest system in the world, in which not only do I and the Home Secretary oversee these things, there are then commissioners – the interception of communications commissioner, for instance – who oversee our work and report to the Prime Minister on how we do that.”