According to the head of the UK’s MI5 intelligence service, technology and the lack of cooperation from some tech firms is giving terrorists a big leg up on the government.
Andrew Parker, the head of the UK’s home security agency, told the BBC in an interview Thursday that it was becoming more difficult for intelligence agencies to obtain online information for a number of reasons.
Parker went on to claim that internet related firms had an “ethical responsibility” to tip off intelligence agencies about potential terrorist threats.
That said, he went on to note that MI5 was not about “browsing the lives” of the public.
Not coincidentally, this interview with the head of MI5 comes as UK MPs are working on legislation ramping up government powers to undertake electronic surveillance.
UK facing “Severe” terror risk
Parker says much of the reason the UK is currently facing a “Severe” risk of terrorist attack (defined as “an attack is highly likely’) is related to technology, both in terms of the sophistication of today’s terrorists in using technology, and in the lack of cooperation with authorities by some internet companies.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner also commented that the UK was currently “pretty close to the cusp” of the highest terror threat rating of “critical”, meaning a terror attack is expected imminently.
Concerns about possible new UK government surveillance powers
Shami Chakrabarti of human rights group Liberty was in agreement that current UK surveillance legislation was “inadequate”, but she was worried regarding “any attempt to seek a blank cheque from the British public for unlimited surveillance”.
Another consideration is the publication of a critical report from David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who argues that separate legislation to ban extremism could lead to a negative backlash in Muslim communities.
Anderson emphasizes that if the new laws are drawn too broadly, that would actually play into the hands of those encouraging extremism and plotting terrorism.
Statement from MI5 head Andrew Parker
In his interview on BBC Thursday morning, Parker rejected any suggestion that security service tactics could lead to radicalization, saying it was “completely untrue.” He also paid tribute to all the people who work at MI5, and heralded the quality of their work “which so often goes unrecognized”
Parker claimed that modern data encryption technology was creating a situation online where law enforcement and intelligence agencies “can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the communication of people they believe to be terrorists”.
He argued this was a “very serious” issue, and continued to say: “It’s in nobody’s interests that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of authorities.”
Statement from TechUK
The UK’s biggest technology trade association, TechUK, recently released a statement saying that tech firms took their responsibility to support the work of intelligence agencies “extremely seriously,” but any new regulatory burdens placed upon them “must be necessary and proportionate” and should be “based upon clear and transparent law agreed by Parliament”.
The organization also noted the government needs to be clear about expectations for the industry in terms of encryption and the issue of reporting suspicious activity, saying that “the impact on the legitimate right for freedom of speech” must also be considered.