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British minister says report of UK access to US data is 'baseless'

William Hague says any proposals by British intelligence agencies to intercept data needs the approval of ministers.

THE BRITISH MINISTER responsible for international security has said reports that the UK’s surveillance agencies can access data collected by their American counterparts as “baseless”.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that British law requires Government Communications HQ (GCHQ), the UK’s national electronic surveillance body, to seek written approval from a cabinet minister before it has the legal authority to intercept any data.

Hague said any proposals submitted by GCHQ are detailed, outline the extent of any planned operations, describe the intended benefits of the plan, comments from senior officials in Britain’s Foreign Office, and “comprehensive” legal advice.

“This is no casual process,” Hague told MPs. “Every decision is based on extensive legal and policy advice.

“These are not often difficult and finely-judged decisions,” he added. “We do not approve every proposal put before us.”

Hague described this mechanism – which was subject to review by an outside officer, who in turn answered to the prime minister – as a “vital” framework of democratic scrutiny.

Hague’s speech came following reports in The Guardian that GCHQ had been given a “back door” to access data which was collected by the PRISM programme of the National Security Agency – which, in turn, had access to user data collected by companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft.

“This accusation is baseless,” Hague insisted. “Any data obtained by the us from the United States about UK nationals [is] subject to UK statutory controls and safeguards.

“Our intelligence-sharing work with the United States is subject to ministerial and independent oversights, and to scrutiny by the Security and Intelligence Committee” of the House of Commons, he added.

Read: This is the man responsible for one of the biggest leaks in US history

More: Google, Facebook, Skype, YouTube also tapped by US government

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Gavan Reilly

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