William Hague was dispatched into the television studios yesterday to dismiss as "nonsense" claims that GCHQ has been seeking to circumvent the
law by using data gathered by foreign intelligence systems, and will make a Commons statement about the matter later today. A central question is whether GCHQ has been making a indiscriminate trawl of information – of the kind that has led critics of the Data Communications Bill to dub it a "snoopers' charter" – or whether it has been carrying out targeted searches for information (an activity which even as dedicated a civil libertarian as David Davis indicates should be permissible).
Today's Times editorial calls on the Foreign Secretary to clarify everything and anything he can – "how concerned the United Kingdom is about the
potential of its citizens’ data being scrutinised by another country", what the case is for the Data Communications Bill, whether allegations that GCHQ have circumvented the law are true or false. "The tightrope between public confidence and public safety is one that must be walked," it concludes, and Boris Johnson's message is no different: "There is
a trade-off between freedom and security, as Barack Obama rightly says;
between the citizen’s right to total internet privacy, and the duty of the
state to protect us all from harm."
There is little else to be said once that inevitable conclusion has been reached, but the London Mayor does a marvellously entertaining job of it, as he does each Monday morning. His party trick is to haul an anecdote into each column to illustrate his central contention: today, it is being hacked while in China. "I am afraid I just forged on with whatever I
was doing, and it may be that the moles are still there in the innards of my
laptop, secretly relaying useless information to their masters". As he says, "I have never trusted the
security of the internet, or emails, or indeed texts – because it [is] that any data you sent to some server or database or gizmo [can] no longer be in any sense private." Nothing can change that, whatever Hague says today.