We must watch everyone – ex-spy

Published: Tuesday 20th January 2015 by The News Editor

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It is not possible to to monitor the activities of terrorists without intruding upon the lives of others such as the general public, politicians and technology companies, the former head of MI6 has warned.

In his first speech since leaving the role of Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir John Sawers backed the Prime Minister’s assertion that there cannot be “no-go areas” online or in other forms of communications.

At the central London launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an international survey of public trust in institutions including the security services and other government institutions, Sir John said: ” Of course there is a dilemma here because the general public and politicians and the technology companies, to some extent, they want us to be able to monitor the activities of terrorists and other evil doers but they do not want their own activities to be open to any such monitoring.

“I think one benefit of the last 18 months’ debate is that people now understand that is simply not possible and there has to be some form of ability to cover communications that are made through modern technology.

“The prime minister must have been right when he was saying last week that you cannot afford to have complete no-go areas, we cannot have no-go areas in our communities where the police cannot go, because that just allows space room for the evil doers to ply their trades.

“It is the same in the virtual world.

“If you allow areas which are completely impenetrable, then, okay, you might feel comfortable that your communications are private and no one else can see them, but so are those who are trying to do you down and undermine your society.”

In a question and answer session, Sir John said that a terrorist attack getting through in the UK is now highly likely.

He said: “W e have seen a trend over the last few years of the threat rising, the formal threat level has gone up which says that a terrorist attack is highly likely.

“That is not saying an attempted terrorist attack is highly likely. It is saying a terrorist attack getting through is highly likely and we have to take those words at face value.”

The former MI6 chief said he believes many foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq will be relieved to be back in the UK – but a “hardened core” will pose a threat to the UK.

He said: “When you have got hundreds of people going out to places like Syria and Iraq and coming back, I think the great majority of them are probably mightily relieved to get back and do not have the intention to go into terrorism, but there will be a hardened core who are absorbed into extremist ideology and training when they are out in places like Syria who will pose a real threat to us back here.”

In the wake of the Paris attacks, David Cameron vowed that a new Conservative government would introduce ”comprehensive” legislation to ensure there is no ”safe space” for terrorists to communicate over the internet.

The Prime Minister said security and intelligence agencies need ”robust powers” to protect the public from violent extremists.

Mr Cameron has already indicated he would seek to revive measures in the abandoned draft communications data bill – dubbed the ”snoopers’ charter” by critics – enabling the agencies to track emails and other online communications.

At the same time, new legislation will be required to enable the agencies to continue to intercept phone calls and access the content of electronic communications – on the basis of a warrant signed by the home secretary – when existing powers expires in 2016.

Published: Tuesday 20th January 2015 by The News Editor

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