Statement Richard Norton-Taylor
For more than 50 years I have been writing about the activities of national security and intelligence agencies, mainly British but also those from other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Throughout that time the capacity of these agencies to hold data on individuals has increased exponentially. National and EU laws attempting to control the way the agencies use the data, and mechanisms to scrutinise the agencies, have not kept up with the huge growth of surveillance technology available to them. Members of Britain’s intelligence agencies have told me the only safeguard is the self-discipline, honesty, attitude, and ethos of the agencies’ employees.
There is no effective external, independent, judicial or parliamentary scrutiny. There is no way of knowing what information national security and intelligence agencies hold on individuals.
I have been told by a former officer of the British domestic Security Service, commonly known as MI5, that the agency has at least 5 volumes of information on me. I have also been told that officials from British government agencies have passed information about me to officials from other European countries.
I have written extensively about the activities of European, as well as British, intelligence agencies, including the false intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programme before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The agent, known as ‘Curveball’, who reported to German intelligence and who has subsequently admitted wrongdoing, notably in an interview with my then employer, The Guardian.
I have also written extensively about how US intelligence agencies have shared information on individuals with British and other European agencies. Edward Snowden’s revelations demonstrated just how comprehensive this intelligence-sharing is. Among the issues I have pursued as a journalist is the tension between different European intelligence-gathering agencies, notably over the special intelligence-sharing relationship between Britain and the US. Revelations about the ‘Echelon’ network provoked a serious debate in the European Parliament.
I believe that unrestricted surveillance on journalists has a chilling effect and inhibits responsible reporting and independent scrutiny of national security and intelligence agencies. This is unacceptable in a democracy, even more so when developments in intrusive technology are posing a growing threat to personal privacy. Existing laws are unable to combat such threats. The danger now is that security and intelligence agencies will be given more powers enshrined in law, not fewer.