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Ends and means: experts debate the democratic oversight of the UK’s intelligence services

Democratic Audit Uk
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Caroline Wilson Palow, Legal Officer, Privacy International said:

"Despite recent attempts by the UK Government to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee through the Justice and Security Act 2013, the continuing Snowden revelations show how feeble UK oversight actually is. It is now widely acknowledged that the ISC’s weaknesses have resulted in an almost ‘siloed’ body with little transference of knowledge or expertise from a core group of representatives to the wider Parliament, much less the public. This in turn leads to a severe lack of accountability, transparency, and ultimately a breakdown in trust – both of the oversight mechanism and of the agencies themselves. But it does not have to be this way.

The ISC’s unwavering defence of the intelligence agencies’ actions is in contrast to the reaction of the similar bodies in the US. While far from perfect, the US response to the Snowden revelations has resulted in a more robust debate about the powers of the intelligence services than we have thus far seen in the UK. Congress and the US courts have placed significant pressure on the US executive and intelligence services to acknowledge the Snowden revelations and reveal additional details regarding the decision-making process that led to such potential abuses of power. That pressure has resulted in much more transparency, which in turn has led to substantive discussions regarding reform. The ISC should take notes."