UK panel finds spying legal but ‘lacks transparency’

A panel of the United Kingdom’s Parliament has concluded that its controversial government spying operations did not violate the law.

At the same time, however, the legal framework backing up the spying “is unnecessarily complicated” and “lack transparency.”

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The panel ordered Parliament to act on new rules to “clearly set out the intrusive powers available to the agencies, the purposes for which they may use them, and the authorisation required before they may do so.”

“There is a legitimate public expectation of openness and transparency in today’s society, and the intelligence and security agencies are not exempt from that,” it concluded.

The 149-page analysis from the Intelligence and Security Committee comes after a more than yearlong investigation into U.K. spying practices revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013. The work focused on the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) — the U.K.’s answer to the NSA in the U.S. — as well as foreign and domestic intelligence agencies.

The GCHQ’s ability to collect bulk amounts of people’s Internet communications “does not equate to blanket surveillance,” said Hazel Blears, a member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, “nor does it equate to indiscriminate surveillance.”

“GCHQ is not collecting or reading everyone’s emails: they do not have the legal authority, the resources, or the technical capability to do so," she added.

At the same time, however, the legal authority undergirding the agency’s operations is confusing and muddled, the panel said, which should prompt new legislation.

The report follows a court ruling last month that found that U.K. agencies broke the law to get information from the U.S. to spy on British people, though it said that the arrangement became legal when new details were made public in December.