Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chair of the Intelligence Services Committee has defended GCHQ from criticism.
An article in the Guardian by Simon Jenkins said that the Cheltenham intelligence agency used its US partner NSA’s Prism programme to ‘circumvent’ British law.
Sir Malcolm wrote: “The intelligence and security committee, which I chair, has investigated that very claim, seen GCHQ's secret files, and been able to report to parliament that GCHQ had legal warrants from the secretary of state in every case.”
Sir Malcolm added: “There are real issues that do arise out of the Snowden affair, in Britain as elsewhere. Even if the intelligence agencies always act within the law, it must be right for that law to be reviewed from time to time to see whether the safeguards are adequate. Sometimes they are not.”
The former Foreign Secretary, the cabinet minister in charge of GCHQ, said that powers of oversight by the parliamentary committee had been increased, with the introduction of powers to investigate operations by GCHQ, MI5 and MI6.
He concluded: “Our system is not perfect. There are occasions when the intelligence obtained may be of such little value as not to justify the diminution in privacy associated with obtaining it.
“But I have yet to hear of any other country, either democratic or authoritarian, that has both significant intelligence agencies and a more effective and extensive system of independent oversight than the UK and the US.”