Britain is sleepwalking into becoming a surveillance state, the like of which has never been seen before in peacetime Britain, MPs have been told. Opening a packed Westminster Hall debate on intelligence and the security services, Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert (Cambridge) said there were serious questions to be asked about the extent and scale of intelligence agencies’ activities.
"The issues of privacy and security would “come to define the 21st century” said MP Huppert in a debate co-sponsored by Tory Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) and Labour’s Tom Watson (West Bromwich East). Mr Huppert said: “This has been a live discussion and understood in America and much of Europe - but MPs have so far been fairly muted and not had the chance to discuss it thoroughly. “Acknowledging changes in the capacity of the state and companies to collect and analyze data grows massively; we are in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance of the scale which peacetime Britain has never seen before. It’s not planned, it’s not the actions of malevolent individuals, and it’s merely the natural trend of what will happen if nothing is done to stop it. “It can be argued the definitions of war and peace are no longer the same and our enemies are faceless, splintered, and would attack our way of life if we give them an inch. That’s an argument prime ministers and home secretaries have often put. “But if we shape our laws solely in response to this fear, chipping away at our own liberty and our own privacy, then frankly they have already won.” MP Huppert said he was worried about the basic rights and liberties of citizens being eroded. “There is a change - individual surveillance is one thing but the mass hoovering-up of information which is enabled by new technologies changes the system completely". “It means suspicion no longer comes first ... in the new approach we are all suspects whose personal histories can be foraged through.” Mr Huppert said he felt the Guardian had been “deeply responsible” in its handling of the leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, liaising closely with officials to ensure national security was not breached. And he said it had been vital to informing a public debate about what exactly the intelligence agencies were able to do. “We have to ensure the laws and guidance that are available to the staff in our intelligence and security services are clear and we ourselves understand the framework we expect them to operate in,” MP Huppert said. MP Huppert said he felt the debate around surveillance and the NSA was colored by the key player being the United States. “How would we feel if it was not about GCHQ or the NSA, but it was the Chinese? How would we react if the Chinese admitted they had been tapping the Prime Minister’s phone? “We clearly don’t take this seriously enough.” MP Huppert said nobody was seeking the details of precise intelligence-gathering techniques in the public domain, but added: “We do need to have the discussion of what is ok, what is not ok and where the line is drawn. “What we know is not even the National Security Council was told of the scale and scope of surveillance on our own citizens.” And he concluded: “We need a pause. We need a proper and full investigation into powers already available to the intelligence and security services, and it has to be done competently and with an element of independence".